A character in this movie’s version of the Catholic organization Opus Dei explains that their mission is to follow doctrine very strictly. That was director Ron Howard’s secular mission as well with this adaptation of the world-wide best-seller. He and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman knew that the fans of the book would want to see every word up on the screen. And that’s pretty much what they give us, a color-by-numbers adaptation of the book instead of a movie.
Indeed, the book was more cinematic than its on-screen version, with little description, a lot of dialogue, and short, propulsive scenes with a lot of cliff-hangers. The very act of adapting it throws it out of balance. What is left to the imagination in the book comes across as heavy-handed and over the top on screen, from the very first appearance of Paul Bettany as Silas, with a sit-com-style Italian accent. The gossamer-thin plot is even wispier on screen and the book’s eneergetic pacing is slowed down by overly cautious and respectful direction. Its equally thin characterizations give even talented and charismatic performers like Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Bettany, and Alfred Molina too little to do. Only Ian McKellen as scholar Leif Teabing brings his character to life.
Hanks plays “symbolgist” Robert Langdon, in Paris to speak about his new book. Policeman Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) asks him to take a look at a recent homicide victim, a curator at the Louvre who had been scheduled to meet with Langdon that day. As Langdon observes the body, naked and arranged in a peculiar way, and the message he wrote in his own blood, they are interrupted by a police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu (Tautou). Soon after, Langdon and Neveu find themselves on the run from the police and some bad guys as they try to solve a mystery that is hundreds of years old.
It is fun to see the real locations portrayed in the book and there are some good twists in the plot. But Hanks looks tired and distracted and Tautou (of the lovely Amelie) does not seem comfortable with the English dialogue. The same is true for some of the Americans and Brits in the cast, though and it’s tough to blame them as some of the lines must have felt like chewing on wood: “We cannot let ego deter us from our goal.” “The mind sees what it chooses to see.” The historical flashbacks are overdone, with the exception of one subtle flicker between present and past that works nicely. Fans of the book may find what they are looking for, but everyone else may feel that it is a watered-down and dragged-out version of an Indiana Jones movie.
Parents should know that the movie has a good deal of peril and violence. Characters are shot, punched, killed in a car crash, and poisoned. There are also explicit scenes of a character hurting himself as an expression of his religious commitment. A character is an intravenous drug user. There is some strong language (spelled out in subtitles when characters swear in French). The movie also has themes that some audience members may find disturbing, even heretical. While the film-makers have stated clearly that the incidents depicted in the film are fantasy, some audience members may be upset by allegations of illegal activity on the part of some church members or the challenges to traditional doctrines.
Families who see this movie should talk about different groups through history that have believed that information needed to be kept from others. They may also want to talk about the views of different religions and cultures and eras about the role of women.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy reading the book. They will also enjoy movies like National Treasure, Die Hard 3 (very strong language), Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They should learn about the real Opus Dei (whose response to the movie is here) and the real-life characters and locations, including Leonardo da Vinci and the Louvre. They may also want to explore some responses and critiques like this one and this one. Author Dan Brown responds here to questions about what is fact and what is fiction in the book and why he believes his book should not be considered offensive but an invitation to exploration and dialogue.