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  Publicity Stills of "The Da Vinci Code"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Based on the worldwide best-selling novel by Dan Brown
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Afred Molina, Jean Reno, Audrey Tautou
RunTime: 2 hrs 29 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: NC16 (Mature Content)
Official Website: http://www.sonypictures.com.sg/

Opening Day : 19 May 2006


While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon ('Tom Hanks') receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci - clues visible for all to see, and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion - an actual secret society. In a breathless race through Paris, London and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei - a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic organization believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory's secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's secret - and a stunning historical truth - will be lost forever.

Movie Review:

Da Vinci Code has made hoopla all over the world for its controversial topic, which threatens to shake the basic foundation of Christianity. Funny that such fictional writing turn movie would create such uproar among the religious groups. And so the marketing ploy of the very essence of the book goes around, indefinitely, unknowingly creating a big “ho ha” among the communities making Da Vinci Code a must watch. Then came those reports out of Cannes of how awful it was. But seriously, there isn’t any reason to boo, nothing to hiss at, no reason to stand up and walk out in disgust because it’s so terrible. This film isn’t the worst thing you’re ever going to see, not by a long shot, and the beatings Howard and actor Tom Hanks are taking from other critics seems to me, at least on the surface, more than a bit unfair. What can be said wholeheartedly is that the rapturously anticipated film adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" marks a welcome return to the days when potential summer blockbusters didn't just rely on mindless CGI effects to garner moviegoers, but actually featured complexity, character nuances and a brain. Indeed, director Ron Howard has somehow succeeded at mounting an old-school thriller just as heavy on intellect and thought-provoking ideas as it is on chase sequences and shootouts.

Not that it’s still any good. Perhaps the expectation was set too high that any slight disappointment would crumble the very idolization of this fascinating fictional writing. At over 150 minutes, this controversial imagining of the secret life of Jesus Christ is a ponderous, self-serious pseudo puzzle box whose mysteries are readily apparent to a wary audience just about half way through. While I appreciate the fact the filmmakers do not shy away from the book’s central conceit (Jesus was mortal, married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter), Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman treat it with so much earnest didactic respect, the whole thing ends up coming off relatively static. The reality is that the scenario presented here should be a bit of pop entertainment fluff, a fast and furious mystery whose twists and turns are revealed with enthusiastic glee, not with pompous solemnity.

Ian McKellan grasps this. Popping up about an hour in as noted British religious theologian and Holy Grail fanatic Sir Leigh Teabing, he brings the whole affair to zesty, robust life almost by his lonesome. This is one of the year’s great portrayals, the brilliant actor digging into his character with such relish it becomes a complete joy watching him work. The man makes a simple request for tea sound like the most interesting query on the face of the earth, and when he commands, “Witness the biggest cover-up in human history,” a person can’t help but sit upright in their theater seat in rapt attention waiting to hear what that cover-up is.

If only everyone else shared his bemused flippant intensity. Surprisingly, Tom came as the weakest link in the storyline. Thrust suddenly into a murder investigation with biblical implications, the man’s faith is challenged as the actual truth of historical events is laid bare thanks to a series of cryptic clues hidden throughout Europe and involving the great painter Leonardo Da Vinci. Unfortunately, the actor is flat; almost stone-faced throughout the picture, and the deeper Langdon fell inside the mystery the less the actor seemed to care about where it was all leading.

The rest of the cast is fine even if this isn’t their best work. Audrey Tautou makes a decent female lead, her character (police officer Sophie Neveu) helping Langdon navigate the wild corners of the puzzle while danger and suspicion (and her own secret) follows them every step of the way. That danger comes in the form of dogged French detective Captain Fache (Jean Reno) and mysterious Monk Silas (Paul Bettany). Both actors may be stuck playing one-dimensional characters, yet that doesn’t stop either from trying to make the most of them. Bettany, in particular, manages to invest a great deal of murderously conflicted pathos into his assassin, his demise realizing the breadth of his betrayal surprisingly touching.

As for the plot itself, for those uninitiated of Dan Brown’s code, in a nut shell: A curator is murdered at the Louvre and found displayed in a seemingly ritualistic fashion, visiting Harvard symbologist professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in to decode and translate the markings the victim left at the crime scene before he died. Enter the curator's estranged granddaughter, French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who shows up just in time to warn Robert that he is the prime suspect in Captain Fache's (Jean Reno) investigation. As Robert and Sophie go on the run, they gradually discover a long-standing war being waged between a society known as the Priory of Sion and the Vatican-sanctioned Opus Dei Catholic organization involving the secrets behind Jesus Christ's past—proof that he married Mary Magdalene, who birthed his child following his crucifixion—and no less than the Holy Grail itself.

Any controversy surrounding "The Da Vinci Code" proves to be unfounded by the film itself. Whether one chooses to believe the theories set forth by novelist Dan Brown is beside the point; those viewers paying attention will clearly see that the story is not about right and wrong or fact and falsehoods, but about the mere possibilities concerning how our history may have been shaped. A suspension of disbelief is sporadically required, but in the context of the smart screenplay by Akiva Goldsman (2004's "I, Robot"), the historical-based questions offered up make a mostly logical and convincing case for themselves.

Most certainly, movie adaptation of novels, can never reach its intensity of the original maker but by the time things reached their conclusion, I can’t really say that’s a fact the filmmakers should take too much joy from. Howard and Goldsman make this tale so serious, so ponderously sincere, the simple joy of watching an intriguing mystery revealed piece by intricate pieces evaporates even before it has a chance to begin. Fondness for flashbacks was rather taken aback which seemed odd in the storyline, other than a truly jarring car crash (Note: one of cinema’s all-time best).

Pity, because I really do think there is a fun and engaging thriller begging to be released from all of this. If it had been a good hour shorter and treated with less prosaic gravity, I really believe this could have been a real twisty (and twisted) summertime delight. But the problem lies that clearly divides those who have read the book and those who are oblivious. In one hand, those who have come in contact of the novel would be a little bored because it relatively follows pretty much the skeletal structure of the book and thus making it predictable. But in the other hand, those who have no idea can’t help but scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Movie Rating:

(A compelling twist of fictional storytelling in religious proportion that almost hits home)

Review by Lokman B S

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