Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster
Director: Ron Howard
Running Time: 123 mins
Synopsis: Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there, why he has an odd tube in his pocket and why there are now people out to kill him. Enlisting his doctor (Jones) he goes on a tourist eyed view across southern Europe, and some stupid stuff happens.
Dan Brown novels are unadaptable. Pulpy, fast moving and full of dramatic twists in their novel form, and yet based on the evidence of the three adaptations so far, sluggish, silly and dull when converted to film. I’m not entirely sure why what are perfectly serviceable airport thrillers can take the talents of a strong director, some of our best actors and high production values and still come up short. Perhaps it’s the intrinsically silly plots, the leaden characters and the desire to favour beautiful locales. In this adaptation of Brown’s fourth Langdon novel, these major flaws are in full effect, with only a few saving graces.
Opening with Hank’s Langdon disorientated and amnesia riddled. He is being treated by Doctor Sienna Brooks (a trying very hard Felicity Jones) but soon finds himself running for his life as a rogue cop attempts to murder him. Ron Howard is a very capable, often great, director but his incessant reliance on strange nightmare visions that Langdon experiences towards the beginning are strangely subdued even though they feature twisted carcasses and lots of fire. Not to mention Langdon’s confused state and memory loss are very rarely utilised effectively beyond delaying vital plot revelations until the film deems it necessary for him to remember them.
It only gets worse from there. Stumbling upon a clue pointing to Dante’s Inferno which may lead to the whereabouts of a deadly virus created by Ben Foster’s crazed billionaire in order to battle the dangers of overpopulation. In there lies some interesting ideas, that we are pushing ourselves to the brink of extinction but do we kill millions in order to survive or is that a defiance against our very humanity. Sadly these potentially good ideas are wedged into senseless jaunts around historical landmarks and boring character interactions.
Dan Brown seems to think an intellectual Indiana Jones is a good idea, and there is some merit there. But what made Jones great was his attitude, his seat by the pants nature and the sheer fun he seemed to get from his adventure. Robert Langdon is not those things. He is smart sure, and Hanks delivers those exposition moments with conviction but at no point does he feel like a three dimensional character. Same goes for the rest of the cast, Jones is normally utterly charming but she just seems bored here. A later twist involving her and Langdon is delivered well by the twosome but the more you think about it the more stupid it becomes. Ben Foster is here and gone with little of his gruff charisma. Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Hanks’s almost, I repeat almost, age appropriate love interest (she’s still over 10 years younger), but their chemistry is about as sexy as one of the historical statues Langdon coos over.
There is one saving grace though. Irrfan Khan as the leader of a mysterious ‘fixer’ agency. Khan is delightful and playful. His eccentric character falling into the similar role of Ian McKellen in Da Vinci Code (whom was also the best part of that slog). Veering from darkly comical monologues to some pretty violent moments with a glint in his eye. If only the film followed him more.
Even he cannot save the sheer stupidity the film escalates into. I’m all for silliness in a film but here it is played so seriously with no sense of archness that it just becomes laughable. Take this example; the big agency leading the chase is the World Health Organisation, who for some inexplicable reason have access to private jets, SWAT teams, gadgetry to rival Bond and hitmen. I mean does Dan Brown even know what the W.H.O is?! The final moments inject some sense of tension but by then it’s too late. At no point do you get the feel that real stakes are at play here. But boy, does Florence look pretty!
Verdict: Dull, listless and dramatically inert. Irrfan Khan and Hans Zimmer’s decent score are the only saving graces in what amounts to a publicity video for Italy. Time to let this Professor go back to school.