Thursday, May 18, 2006

Viernes de cine

El "Da Vinci Code" le cayo mal a la critica en general. La voy a esperar en DVD. Aca va el review de Morgenstern.

May 19, 2006

This is just a theory, you understand. It wasn't prompted by the discovery of provocative symbols, mysterious texts, numerical sequences, complex anagrams or cunning clues in priceless paintings, but only by what glazes the eye, muddles the mind and slows the heart in Ron Howard's movie version of "The Da Vinci Code." And what does such evidence suggest? That the production was subverted by dark forces of ancient origin, a shadowy group of implacable killjoys for whom fun is blasphemy, clarity is heresy and playfulness must be proscribed on pain of brain death.

Not everyone has succumbed. Ian McKellen proves that levity has its place within the artificial gravity of Dan Brown's revisionism. (In case you've been away on another planet, the famously controversial novel contends that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene, and that the secret of Christ's surviving bloodline has been guarded by a shadowy group called the Priory of Sion.)

The movie is meant to be an entertainment, just as the book was an intricate work of fiction, and Sir Ian brings a buoyant spirit to the role of Sir Leigh Teabing, the ex-pat English aristocrat who is expert in all things pertaining to the Priory. Leigh finds himself in mortal danger after opening the gates of his chateau to his old friend the American symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), and to Robert's new friend, the French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). Yet it's easy to believe him when he thanks his surprise guests for the greatest night of his life. It's much harder to know what he's talking about when he announces brightly, "Well, I must say you two are anything but dull."

In fact Robert and Sophie are extremely, inexplicably dull. There's not a whit, jot or watt of electricity between them. (Sophie's background, as we come to understand, makes standard romance a nonstarter, but a little human warmth wouldn't have hurt.) What's more, a point-shaving scheme has affected their IQs. The book portrays them as two marvelously smart people with complementary gifts who uncover a plot of cosmic consequence as they run from fanatic assassins lurking within the Catholic Church. In the movie they're two not-so-beautiful minds, a pair of worrywarts who get the job done the same way the movie does -- strenuously but gracelessly. (Ditto for Hans Zimmer's relentless score.)

For Mr. Hanks, the role simply wasn't there to play. The crude carpentry of Akiva Goldsman's script makes Robert more of a spectator than a protagonist. Worse still, the script pits him against himself in denying the very theory he's developing. While this makes no sense logically or dramatically, it's part of the movie's pattern of defanging controversial elements of the book, including Sophie's childhood memories of orgiastic behavior in her home, and the lurid events in the Louvre that set the plot in motion.

Ms. Tautou's character has clearly been demoted from powerful woman to winsome symbol of the sacred feminine. (Sophie's most compelling display of power is driving a car like a demon in reverse.) Yet the actress's struggles seem less simple. Perhaps her command of English was unequal to the task; many of her line readings are oddly flat, while a few are barely comprehensible. Surely Ron Howard's direction failed her, as it failed the whole movie in its dogged pursuit of intensity.

Whatever one may think of Dan Brown's book as a piece of literature, it managed to marry great gobs of information with narrative drive. Thus it comes as an unpleasant surprise that the movie is less cinematic than the book, despite a profusion of foolish flashbacks that evoke repressed memories, fearful dreams or portentous events in the ancient world. (The Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea looks like outtakes from D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance".) The movie illustrates the book, sometimes creepily; you're not likely to forget Paul Bettany's murderous Silas, the slashback of Saint-Sulpice. Even as a visual aid, though, "The Da Vinci Code" is a deep-dyed disappointment. Paris by night never looked murkier.


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