It’s difficult to know quite why, but The Da Vinci Code, cribbed from a number of dubious sources and reading like a poorly written airport novel, has become a world-wide phenomenon. Author Dan Brown has managed to sell over 60 million copies of the book and it was inevitable that the mystery thriller would be turned into a movie. The book has been dogged by controversy since its release, with sceptics, scientists, historians and religious groups jumping up and down like crazed baboons denouncing its inaccuracies. But it’s worth pointing out again, that this is a work of fiction, and although many ideas have been borrowed from books that purport to be historical fact, anyone treating this cobbled-together story as a guide to the real mysteries of the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail needs their head testing.

So while other people are tying themselves in knots fretting that in reality the Louvre‘s restrooms only have liquid soap, so how could the GPS transmitter slipped into Robert Langdon‘s pocket be embedded in a bar of soap and flung from the restroom window? and other deviations from the real world, this review will be looking at how the movie works as a film. After all, if you’re investing in some popcorn, you want to know if the movie is any good, not that the Catholic prelature Opus Dei is up in arms about how they’ve been misrepresented as nothing more than self-flagellating murderers.

But we’re jumping slightly ahead of ourselves, so let’s backtrack and find out who Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is. He is, in fact, a professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University and is in Paris to give a lecture. Sharp eyed viewers will notice that amongst the symbols shown during his presentation is the Apple “clover” (⌘) symbol used on Mac keyboards. It’s presumably an Easter Egg, the relevance of which becomes obvious as the movie progresses.

Following Langdon’s presentation the French police ask if he can help them with a strange, ritualistic murder. He’s taken to the Louvre where the stripped body of Jacques Saunière, the museum’s curator, lies amid strange symbols and puzzles sketched on the floor in his blood. Langdon becomes the prime suspect in the murder case but is helped to flee from the Louvre by Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a French government cryptographer, who suddenly appears with a message for him. Quite how she knows that captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) of the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire, the French criminal investigation police, is planning on framing Langdon, or how she knows that he has a GPS transmitter in his pocket is never explained and is one of the many plot holes that drives a wedge between the viewer and the action.

The pair escape and try and solve the mystery that Saunière left behind, while avoiding the police and Silas (Paul Bettany with dyed hair and a set of unconvincing contact lenses), an albino agent of Opus Dei, who is not averse to shooting people and whipping himself. Certainly, the Silas in the movie is a less complex character than the one in the book, who at least questions whether killing people is the right thing to do.

Langdon and Sophie discover that the mystery is somehow related to the Holy Grail and a cover-up perpetuated by the Church for centuries. They seek refuge with the ridiculously named Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a self-proclaimed expert on the Priory of Sion, a secret organisation thought to be safeguarding the Holy Grail, and whose member have included Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci. With Fache and the French police still hot on their tail, they make their escape in Teabing’s private jet and continue their search in London, finally ending up at the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, allegedly built by the Knights Templar.

The movie seems to follow the same pattern continuously: solve a puzzle, do some running; solve a puzzle, do some running and so on. This lack of variation becomes a bit wearing after a while, despite the best efforts of the cast to inject some excitement into proceedings. Not withstanding its hokey source material, the book did have the potential to be a great movie, but somehow Ron Howard’s direction feels leaden, and slightly by-the-numbers. Certainly the screeplay, by Akiva Goldsman (who worked with Howard on the wonderful Cinderella Man) sticks to the novel’s convoluted plot a little too closely for fear of alienating the hardcore fans, but inevitably allows some of Dan Brown’s poor writing to creep in. Something a little more adventurous from both Howard and Goldsman could have given this movie a lift and allowed the actors to do more than spout exposition every couple of minutes.

Having said that, the movie is not so bad that it deserves to the critical mauling it has already experienced in some quarters (which could be explained by a Da Vinci Code backlash from a media that has been saturated with Dan Brown’s novel for years). Whatever the reason, the movie is bogged down by its complexity and hindered by dull direction and stodgy performances from the key actors, who have all done much better work elsewhere. The movie is a below average, tedious potboiler, not a disaster, but is not Ron Howard’s finest hour, and certainly not the movie Tom Hanks will be remembered for.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Dir. Ron Howard
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller

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