Symbol of the times
The Da Vinci Code is more media hype than movie entertainment
It should be no surprise that the film version of The Da Vinci Code comes off as nothing more than a manufactured media event. The runaway publishing success of Dan Brown’s book made a hype-heavy Hollywood version more or less inevitable—a more or less natural offshoot, that is, in the consumer-culture industries that have sprung up around the book’s own crafty manufacturing.
If there’s any surprise at all in this globally ballyhooed flick, it probably resides in its modest success in muffling the absurdities and extravagances of Brown’s dubiously “controversial” tale while still maintaining at least the minimum levels of conventional movie entertainment. But even though reviewers tabbed the book as ready-made for the movies, the onscreen results indicate, again and again, that the book never had all that much in the way of really interesting motion-picture potential.
Howard and his actors can smooth over Brown’s clunky prose style, but they’re still stuck with a story in which dramatic action is repeatedly held hostage to hefty stretches of expository dialogue. The screen version struggles gamely with those built-in limitations but never manages to rise above them, let alone make them into cinematic virtues.
The story, of course, includes a murder in the Louvre, a self-flagellating killer monk, assorted shootings and chase scenes, and a small blizzard of conspiracies, double-crosses, false leads, assumed identities and cryptic clues. But most of that comes across as routinely conventional movie stuff—truncated bits of action and violence providing dramatic punctuation in between explanatory scenes and puzzle solutions.
The cast is a good one, but there’s very little for them to do with their respective roles, apart from maintaining straight faces through some of the more preposterous moments. Tom Hanks is moderately credible as a “professor of symbology” with an aptitude for arcane detective work, while Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno have no choice but to play their variously haunted characters primarily as stock crime-story figures.
Sir Ian McKellen does seem to have some fun with his part (as another of the story’s world-class “symbology” scholars). But like Paul Bettany (who plays the killer monk), he too is thrown away on a stock character in whom there is less than meets the eye.