The Da Vinci Code

Tom Hanks and Ron Howard, two Hollywood nice guys, try their hands as provocateurs by adapting the controversial bestseller by Dan Brown. The brouhaha surrounding The Da Vinci Code has amped up expectations for this film to blockbuster proportions. It’s almost a can’t miss opening weekend and this could be the biggest film of the summer. In situations like this you wonder if the Vatican gets a percentage of the gross for handling the publicity.

The controversy stems from a book published 1982 called Holy Blood Holy Grail. This book put forth the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a daughter. After Jesus was crucified, his daughter made her way to southern France where she founded the Merovingian dynasty. This secret is the Holy Grail of legend. The secret, and the unbroken line of heirs has been protected throughout history by an organization called the Priory of Sion. Trying to eradicate the evidence, is an ultraconservative organization in the Catholic Church called Opus Dei. This description is a simplification of the theory, which really doesn’t do it justice. There are all kinds of implications that the movie doesn’t even touch on.

So the question is: do you have to believe in the conspiracy to enjoy the movie?

Before I answer that let me give you a plot summary. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a historian who specializes in religious symbology. While on a book signing tour in Paris, he is called in to investigate a body found in a gallery of Louvre. The victim, one Jacques Sauniere was shot. but had time before he died, to cover himself with obscure symbols and plant clues about his killer all around the museum. Helping Langdon is a French cryptologist, who also happens to be the victim’s granddaughter, Sophie Neveu, played by megababe Audrey Tautou. The investigation leads them into the dark recesses of the conspiracy and ever closer to the Grail.

I’ll warn you right now, the conspiracy is the main character in the story. There are a lot of exposition scenes that come at you fast and furious. It might behoove you to watch one of those documentaries on A&E, The History Channel, any of a number of similar networks before you see the film. The gradual unraveling of the conspiracy is what gives the plot it’s forward motion. If you’re not following it you’re going to get bored. I suppose you also could wait for the DVD and rewind it if you missed something.

That would be a shame though because the film looks very good. It takes place over the course of one night, allowing for dark shadows with rich textured hues. The performances are adequate. Hanks doesn’t particularly make Robert Langdon different from Tom Hanks but he doesn’t really need to. Audrey Tautou is a talented actress but doesn’t really have much to do here. Paul Bettany has the stand out performance, as he so often does, as Silas the murderous albino monk.

As mentioned above, the script goes through the material crisply and efficiently. It tries to provide characterization. But that aspect of it is pretty much by the numbers. Every character has a trauma in their childhood that effects his or her adult personality in predictable ways. I saw the big twist coming, although some of the smaller ones surprised me.

As for the big question posed earlier? I don’t believe in the conspiracy, but I very much enjoyed this movie. Who knew ecclesiastical history could be so exciting?

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