Friday, November 30, 2012

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Mystery, Thriller, 174 minutes (extended cut)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, and Alfred Molina

Did you see The Hunger Games and read the books because everyone was talking about it this year? How about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo three years ago? We live in a world in which hype can have a huge effect on people's behavior. It drove the Harry Potter franchise a decade ago, and I'm sure you can list other examples dating back to Jaws, The Exorcist, or even Psycho, if you are old enough. Well, in 2006, The Da Vinci Code was the must-read book and the must-see movie of the moment.

Did the reality match the buzz?

Despite grossing $758 million, it's surprising that The Da Vinci Code is regarded as a failure by so many people. One common complaint is that Tom Hanks' hair looked silly. I guess it says something about the movie if you are focusing on that aspect? I've read the book, seen the movie, bought it on DVD twice, upgraded to Blu-ray, and I have never understood all the negativity surrounding Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's novel. By the way, the novel also received a lot of negative comments claiming that the writing was terrible.

I have come to the conclusion that many of the negative comments are due to the perception that the movie is attacking religion. There is a long sequence in which we are shown an alternative interpretation of Da Vinci's The Last Supper. I won't reveal the details, but I would imagine that scene is the source of the trouble for most of the viewers who objected to the subject matter. I find it a little disturbing that people who supposedly believe completely in something can feel threatened by a story which contradicts those beliefs.

Would you avoid seeing Alien because you don't believe such creatures exist? They are stories, intended to entertain, not documentaries claiming to depict actual events. The Harry Potter franchise is not evil or damaging to children. I'm also disappointed that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was abandoned after The Golden Compass. Again, it's probably because of the perceived religious stance. We lost what could have been an incredible trilogy, but you can still read the books.

Anyway, enough of that, while I still have a few readers left.

The Da Vinci Code is a mystery and something of a treasure hunt. Robert Langdon (Hanks) is a professor who is promoting his latest book. The book deals with symbology, and explains the origin of some of the symbols and clothing that we may have encountered during our lives. Hanks is convincing in the role and we see him delivering a lecture, in Paris, at the start of the story. Before he can finish signing books for the crowd, he's approached by the French police; they claim to need his help in explaining an unusual murder, so he accompanies them to the crime scene inside the Louvre.

The murdered man is Louvre curator, Jacques Saunière. He's naked and has apparently arranged himself in the same position as Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. He's also left other messages, and one mentions Langdon. It's here that Langdon encounters Sophie Neveu (Tautou), who is a police cryptologist. But unlike the other police, she appears to have an agenda of her own. She teams up with Langdon and they attempt to solve the riddles left in Saunière's message.

Although the running time in the extended version is just short of three hours, the pacing makes the movie feel much shorter. The revelations are frequent and make the viewer feel as if they are involved in the story. It would be wrong to reveal any more of the movie's secrets because it's better if you experience them for yourself.

The story won't work if you analyze what's happening too closely. After all, it contains an albino monk (Bettany), a priest who is more concerned with money and power than religion (Molina), and a historian (McKellen) who is obsessed with the Holy Grail. When you look at the movie in that light, it's clearly nonsense, but so is the Indiana Jones franchise, and that's held in high regard by both critics and moviegoers.

The Da Vinci Code also introduced a lot of people to Audrey Tautou. She has produced some incredible work, starring in Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, and Coco Avant Chanel, but American audiences finally had the chance to see her appear in an English-language movie. If you are a fan, I urge you to give Amelie a try. However, I may be biased as I think she's the most beautiful actress since Irene Jacob graced our screens in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors Red.

The movie has a little action, but it will work better for fans of mysteries. The conclusion does leave us with a few questions, but it's quite satisfying nonetheless.

Tom Hanks had some incredible roles in the 90s, and was arguably the best actor in that decade, but we haven't seen any memorable performances from him since Cast Away (2001) and Road to Perdition (2002). His biggest successes in the last decade came as a voice actor for Pixar. Although The Da Vinci Code is far from perfect, I always find it enjoyable, and would rate it as Hanks' best role in the past ten years. Angels & Demons also features the Robert Langdon character, played by Hanks. It wasn't a box office success, so it's unclear whether The Lost Symbol will ever be made.

If you are open to preposterous stories, you might find that The Da Vinci Code is a lot better than people would have you believe. It's certainly better than National Treasure. Fans of Hanks and mysteries should take a look. Ignore the negative comments and make up your own mind.

Overall score 4/5

Return to index of every review on the site.


  1. "I find it a little disturbing that people who supposedly believe completely in something can feel threatened by a story which contradicts those beliefs"

    I agree. Great review, Steve. This movie didn't meet my inane expectations but it was still very fun. It's my favorite Paul Bettany performance, too.

    1. Yep, Bettany did well. I like his performance in Margin Call.