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 The Da Vinci Code
 Critic's Rating
 Date Posted
   1st June, 2006
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Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen
Director: Ron Howard

Seek the truth. That there is the tagline of "The Da Vinci Code," a Hollywood adaptation of the controversial best-selling novel by Dan Brown about the mortality of Jesus and his alleged marriage to Mary Magdalene. The basis of the book and, by proxy, its film version, is the search for this so-called truth. But truth is relative surely, what is fact or fiction is in the hearts and minds of the people. Or is it? Here's some help from an exchange between the great Greek philosophers Socrates and Protagoras:
Protagoras: "Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion."

Socrates: "You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?"

Protagoras: "Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective."

Socrates: "Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?"

Protagoras: "Indeed I do."

Scorates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy."

Protagoras: "You are quite correct, Socrates."
A complex and paradoxical debate that is, not unlike our film's themes, hardly ideal for small talk. The nature of absolute truth is too grave, far too important a thing to be left to the high jinks of pulp literature. Such meaning dissertation must be the concern of sober intellectualism. But should we allow charity and liberalism to accede us to the book's absurd entertainment value? After all, it has proven its worth as a page-turner; many a reader has been transfixed, torn through it on planes, on beaches, in their favourite rocking chairs even. Novelist Dan Brown (who also serves as the film's executive producer) found sudden fame and success with a book that in all earnestness is a pastiche of theological revisionism and conspiracy theory. That is an opinion of course (no irony), but an immeasurably comforting one. Knowing this may help in your assessment of the film for it is very faithful to the source material.

Tom Hanks is Robert Langdon, an American symbologist from Harvard, who is in Paris to give a lecture on our association of symbols with world culture and history. When a respected curator of the Louvre is murdered by an albino monk called Silas (Paul Bettany), French police chief Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) deems Langdon as the prime suspect in the homicide. Fortunately for Langdon, help comes in the shapely form of Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who facilitates his escape to freedom; she is convinced that there is a sinister conspiracy surrounding the dead man who was also her estranged grand-daddy. Following a trail of cryptic messages and puzzles left by the curator, Langdon and Sophie will discover underground cults, century-old religious secrets and possibly some good-old fashioned sexual tension.

The book has been adapted for the screen by Akiva Goldsman who seems to be a fan of the old adage 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' (though what isn't broken is an argument for another time). His vanilla screenplay is translated into the language of cinema by the same Oscar-winning director who had collaborated with him on "A Beautiful Mind," Ron Howard. Don't expect a rollicking time at the movies because whimsy is jettisoned in favour of mood. The film's tone is self-important in an obvious subservience to Brown's book. The chemistry between Hanks and Tautou diffuses some of the grimness of the subject matter. Ian McKellan as a delightful Sir Leigh Teabing is invaluable: there's a critical scene in the film that reveals the esoteric mystery behind Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper painting; in a wordy script this could have been yet another stab at exposition had it not been for McKellan's incredible charm and wit. The film is indebted to him. Up against the need to tell Dan Brown's 500-page story, director Howard employs Salvatore Totino's fluid cinematography to inject much needed energy into the dullness of a dialogue-heavy film. But Howard has never been known for originality and vision, so when he fails to rise above mediocrity, we forgive him out of compassion. Besides, Howard and crew were hired hands whose aim was to deliver on the promise of robust ROI to the film's financial investors, right? (US$ 77 million opening weekend at the box office).

"The Da Vinci Code's" film release has drawn The Vatican, Christian community and other sympathetic religious groups into a fireball of indignation. It's a perfectly reasonable reaction because cinema as a medium of communication is more penetrable than its literary counterpart. But we should all be OK as long as we remember that it's only a movie. And like the book not a very good one. - Adnan Khan

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