No thanks to Hanks, "The Da Vinci Code" works

June 1, 2006, midnight | By Jason Meer | 17 years, 8 months ago

Supporting cast keeps suspenseful thriller afloat

With the recent blockbuster release "The Da Vinci Code," director Ron Howard has created something completely unprecedented in recent Hollywood circles: He has eschewed the opportunity to pump an action film full of unnecessary innuendo and arbitrary love stories. For this alone, Howard deserves applause. His film is much more about religious themes than the relationship between Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), but in his efforts to remain true to the plot, Howard has cut character development, something all too common in movie adaptations. The results are superficial characters and an unevenly paced plot that fall short of the standard established by Dan Brown's wonderfully crafted novel.

The movie begins when Langdon and Neveu are up to their ears in suspense as they race across Europe in a quest for the Holy Grail, which had been protected by the Priory of Sion, a secret organization most recently headed by Neveu's grandfather Jacques Saunière. But with Saunière's murder at the story's outset, the Grail's safety is compromised, and Langdon and Neveu must embark on a wild treasure hunt through France to find the Grail with French police captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno), who thinks Langdon is the killer, hot on their tails. Along the way, they encounter Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), an obsessive Grail enthusiast, and Silas (Paul Bettany), an albino monk who will stop at nothing to destroy the the relic.

As events unfold, it becomes clear that Hanks' character has been handpicked by Sauniére to accompany Neveu in the quest because of his ability to decipher codes and comprehend foreign symbols. In the novel, Langdon is given ample time to solve numerous anagrams that serve as major clues. In the movie, however, Hanks seems almost omnipotent in his abilities, removing credibility from the plot. Hanks also doesn't really fit the handsome professorial role many believe Brown intended.

Besides Hanks, the rest of the cast holds the movie together. Reno has so much grit as the police chief that he practically spits gravel at anyone who gets in his way. McKellen reprises his crazed sage role from "The Lord of the Rings" series in an effective, albeit not altogether original, manner. But the real gem of the bunch is Bettany. His ability to display Silas' unfathomable inner anguish in the bloody scenes of self-torture is so powerful that many squeamish theatergoers shielded their eyes.

Interspersed between the scenes of torturous violence and thrilling suspense, washed-out flashbacks take jabs at tender audience hearts to hint at many of the characters' inner torment. But if Howard thought these stylized montages could suffice as character development, he was sadly mistaken. Though Bettany makes Silas a memorable character, the depths of Brown's albino baddie are lost in the shallows of brief glimpses of past fights and confusing encounters.

In the end, no one really could have expected a director known for tear-jerkers like "A Beautiful Mind" and "Cinderella Man" to deal with Brown's worldwide bestseller in the right way. The end result is a respectable film that takes many risks with its fast-paced thriller plot, but gets tripped up in syrupy-slow flashbacks and aspects that were too difficult to translate from print to screen. Fans of the book will be disappointed — as always — but the supporting actors make "The Da Vinci Code" a worthwhile, though far from spectacular, entry into the summer movie sweepstakes.

"The Da Vinci Code" (149 minutes, area theaters) is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content.

Jason Meer. Jason Meer is a RISING SENIOR who needs to get more sleep. When awake, he finds time to facebook, watch SportsCenter and World Poker Tour, and listen to varied musicians from Chamillionaire to Sigur Ros to Kelly Clarkson. If you see a red-haired guy walking … More »

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