I am of the opinion that there’s a pretty high floor for a competently crafted conspiracy thriller. The genre naturally captures the imagination and builds tension and sets up big twists.
The Da Vinci Code is a functional piece of cinema, but it barely rises above that floor. It’s fully invested in its elaborate conspiracy — for a full 2.5 hours!! — but not much else. The action is perfunctory, the character development nonexistent, the editing choppy. Tom Hanks’s quasi-mullet is inexplicable.
And yet, I couldn’t look away from the movie. Dan Brown, the source novel’s author, is not an artful prose writer. But he does understand the calculus of intrigue, the ebb and flow that connects compelling mystery and revelation. The movie’s entire damn script is Tom Hanks narrating the solution to mysteries every scene, Sherlock Holmes-style, using ridiculous religious symbols as clues. But it… works? And is kinda fun? And the final payoff is actually pretty satisfying — far from a given in conspiracy stories.
It’s all pure fiction, but it’s semi-plausible malarkey, which is the best kind. The science-vs-academia theme carries through as somewhat resonant. I can see why it was a lightning rod even if any rational mind would roll their eyes at the core story.
The sense of place is strong too — it really feels like we’re spending time in Paris, London, and Scotland. (Rome is notably absent, but the sequel takes care of that.)
The cast makes it work — though Hanks’ demeanor is too disarming to be truly cerebral, he’s more than up to the task of carrying a movie like this. Audrey Tautou is welcome, as is Ian McKellen as wealthy, neurotic sidekick. Paul Bettany leaves the biggest impression as a wacko albino religious zealot in the main villain role.
Again, it is not, strictly speaking, a good movie. I will draw that line in the sand. But there are worse ways to spend a couple hours.
- Review Series: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.