A scholar in desperate need of a new shampoo, and a girl whose identity is obvious from the beginning, become prime suspects in a poorly executed murder, and due to the silliest clues imaginable, find themselves dealing with a religious mystery that could “shake the foundations…” No. That could “disrupt the basic…” Nope, that’s not it either. OK, how’s this: A mystery that could very mildly effect a few people.
That’s it?! That’s what Christians around the world were protesting? That sparked hunger strikes and death threats? Of course none of those people bothered to see it before going insane. The Da Vinci Code is an innocuous little thriller that’s just not all that thrilling. It’s slow, it’s long. And there’s very little to offend anyone who isn’t a mumbling zealot.
And that’s where it goes wrong. The movie takes its time, pulls back on action, excitement, and emotional highs and lows, because it is counting on the shock value of the basic premise to carry the show. And it would, if it was all that shocking. If the film really bashed the viewers with something wild (think Texas Chain Saw Massacre), then it would be smart to keep everything else tame. But don’t expect anything to blow your socks off. Even Catholics who haven’t missed a mass in fifty years aren’t going to be traumatized. For atheists, there’s nothing here.
For the six or seven of you out there who don’t know what the great religious secret is, well, I’m not going to tell you. The movie would be minutely better if you went in without knowing. But besides not being an overwhelming idea, The Da Vinci Code doesn’t even say that this twist is true. It gives an out for every religious indictment. Yes, it suggests something that goes against most Christian doctrine, but then it turns out to just be one group’s view and could be wrong. There are some nasty folks within the Catholic hierarchy, but they are acting alone and are not backed by the Pope or Church teachings. So, the story is just about two secret organizations that have been at odds for years over a minor difference in dogma. Gosh, isn’t that original?
Which leaves us with the mystery procedural aspect. Unfortunately, the film stumbles there as well. Our heroes discover very little. Most of the clues are fed to them (worse, as they are being told everything, Langdon, the symbol scholar, is agreeing or arguing, so he evidently knew it all before). All that’s left is a prosaic treasure hunt.
“Luck” is the word of the day. Or call it deus ex machina. This is a film where people just happen to go to the one person in the world that will help the plot along, and where violent death is averted by the perfectly timed rustling of some pigeons; apparently some gunman are easily distracted.
It isn’t a complete mess. It has a heavy-weight cast, and if few do their best work, these are still some pretty entertaining actors. You may find pleasure in watching the unraveling of some of the puzzles. The movie’s best moments belong to Paul Bettany as Silas, the albino assassin of the secretive Opus Dei order. He’s one weird bastard, and should go on anyone’s list of someone you don’t want to be chased by in a major museum.
With such poor pacing and long length, attractive cinematography would have helped, but The Da Vinci Code is an ugly movie. Many of the scenes look like they were shot with natural light. The frame is often too dark, but occasionally it’s washed out. It’s always grainy. And we spend the entire film invading Hanks and Tautou’s personal space. Hey, guys, pull the camera back!
The Da Vinci Code isn’t offensive to Christians. Nor is it problematic for Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Satanists, or atheists. It isn’t much of anything. If you are making a religious-themed film, you really ought to tick someone off (that is, with the actual content, not just with what fanatics are assuming the flick is like).