Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cinema 2006: Da Vinci disappoints

For a movie filmed in part in the City of Light, director Ron Howard’s "The Da Vinci Code" is cataract cinema; many scenes are so dark you wonder if the director is trying to keep the poor performances of his actors in the shadows.

Apart from a few scene-setting panoramas of Paris and London, this much ballyhooed film from 2006 doesn't have much to offer visually. Sure, there are those infamous scenes of Silas (Paul Bettany), the melanin-challenged villain and mentally deluded psycho, flagellating himself. Unfortunately, Bettany’s acting here in general is so annoying you want to grab the lash yourself and have at him.

Audrey Tautou is uneven in her portrayal of a French detective. Tattou does come alive in one scene where she interrogates Silas, whom she suspects of murdering her grandfather. But for the most part, she keeps a tight lid on any emoting. Nor does Tom Hanks in the lead role of Harvard prof Robert Langdon, make any effort to bring his character to life.

Langdon is in Paris promoting his book when he is drawn into a murder investigation. Hanks’s Langdon is devoid of charisma. Had the movie allowed Langdon a rakish side -- he is after all on the lam with a handcuff-toting French hottie -- it could only have contributed some entertainment value, a commodity conspicuous here by its absence.

Jean Reno is instantly credible as a French homicide detective, and the movie exposes his character's ruthlessness, subtly at first, and always smoothly. And if you don't already know the s-word in French, this movie will teach it to you. The versatile vocable is spoken repeatedly by a number of different characters in different situations and that is, believe me, a realistic touch. We also get a street-savvy Parisian's tour of the French capital, including the Louvre -- complete with de rigueur disparagement of Pei's pyramid -- and the Bois de Boulogne park, home to needle-users and kneeling losers.

There is plenty of French spoken in this film, and it's the authentic, beautifully gutteral street variety. There is also enough Latin spoken here to call into question its dead language status. Unfortunately, what this film needs is less Latin, and more puer amat puellam.

“Da Vinci Code” is dragged down by the weight of explanation -- about Knights Templar, Opus Dei, crusades, French etymology, gnostic gospels and secret societies within the Church. Attempts at comic relief fall flat, while at least two flashbacks that are intended to be serious come across like sick jokes.

Sir Leigh Teabing is played with relish by Ian McKellen. Not only does Teabing’s jet and secret agenda advance the narrative, McKellen’s playfulness refreshes. Teabing uses his wealth to hide the fact that he’s a few beads shy of a rosary. Besides, never trust a man whose chessboard is set up incorrectly, the sign of a charlatan!

Maybe if the audience were given the chance to solve the arcane puzzles and silly riddles that are substituted here for plot, the film would come across as engaging. Instead, we are outpaced by our hero who, emoting wheels-turning cerebration, solves everything with alacrity, jets off on a superficial scavenger hunt and then has the nerve to spout professorially on the meaning of life to a person we learn is directly descended from J.C. himself.

Et puis, merde!

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