The Da Vinci Code
directed by Ron Howard
(Columbia, 2006)

I read Dan Brown's novel twice -- skimming most of the time over the more ludicrous plot holes in favor of the "who done it, who hid it" stuff, which is great fun -- and still, during the 2.5-hour run of Ron Howard's film treatment of The Da Vinci Code, I found myself utterly lost.

From Paris to Rome to London to the English countryside, everyone zips around, holds secret meetings, double-crosses -- and all in the loveliest of surroundings at the pinnacles of the art world, the Catholic church and international banking.

Who at this point doesn't know the basic plot?

The secret of the Holy Grail, protected for millennia, is the spark point between the Holy Roman Catholic Church; Opus Dei, a Catholic society; renegade cardinals; the French police; and Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist. The Catholic Church was none too happy with the accusations leveled in Brown's work of -- let's say it all together, everyone -- fiction, but that's like saying the French police have every right to be horrified at how they're portrayed here, too.

There's a lot of convenience in Brown's plot: When a curator turns up naked and dead in the Louvre, it's up to Langdon (in Paris, what do you know, for a conference) to attempt to decode the symbols written around the body.

Langdon (Tom Hanks) is assisted by French cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou) -- who's, qu'une surprise, related to the dead man -- in the race to escape the French police who suspect him of murder, figure out where the dead man was trying to direct them, avoid the homicidal Opus Dei hit man Silas (Paul Bettany, who's the most interesting person in the movie) and save the Grail.

Yes, after all that, take a deep breath.

Howard's movie showcases both strengths -- the codes, the mysteries -- of Brown's novel and makes the most of some pretty spectacular filming privileges -- in the Louvre, various castles, temples, abbeys and cathedrals.

But it also lays bare the awkward dialogue and betrays some pretty improbable coincidences: the man who helps Langdon and Neveu, Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan), for one, has a servant, a private jet and an extensive PowerPoint seminar explaining Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" all ready to go. Plus, the main double-crosser suffers the same weakness all villains in the grand Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew tradition have: the need to explain, at length, just why they're bad instead of simply shooting and grabbing what they want.

But after all that, what it comes down to is this: If you like the book, you'll forgive the movie. If you hated the book, beware: Howard is working next on Brown's Angels & Demons.

by Jen Kopf
3 February 2007

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