The Da Vinci Code

on May 19, 2006 by Richard Mowe
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Whatever anyone thinks of the book, which has as many detractors as admirers, most observers will have to concede that director Ron Howard, in his much-anticipated bigscreen version of "The Da Vinci Code," has marshaled the forces of darkness with aplomb (whereas, with the novel, if you have time to stop and reflect, the artifice of it all begins to weigh heavily).

In the film, despite its two-hour-plus running time, Howard manages to make more sense of it all without dispelling the mystery -- and leaves little time for anyone to ponder any inconsistencies. In fact, he seems to have ironed out most of them.

It's a better film than the novel merits. The painstaking decision to shoot in many of the locales described in print -- from the Louvre, where a murder leads to the discovery of a religious mystery, to a resolution of sorts in Rosslyn Chapel -- lends authenticity and real atmosphere. There's an undeniable frisson in knowing that, in the Louvre, the actors are just yards from Leonardo's most famous work. Howard has made the story his own, whether Dan Brown, the best-selling author, likes it or not. The original is multi-layered and complicated, allowing Howard the clear choice of paring down the narrative to cinematic proportion. It's a rattling roller coaster ride once Ian McKellen enters the fray and the action switches to London and Scotland.

Howard is served well by his actors, most notably the normally taciturn Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, the religious historian who's framed for murder. Audrey Tautou shows she's more than just an ingénue as the policewoman who goes on the run with him, while Paul Bettany brings shivers to the spin as the seriously creepy Silas. But as in so many big screen stories, it's McKellen who steals the show playing Sir Leigh Teabing, the sinfully wealthy, polio-afflicted aristocrat who joins Hanks and Tautou's characters on their quest for the Holy Grail.

Howard, in his direction in subjects from "Apollo 13" to "A Beautiful Mind," has always tackled topics that engage the intellect as well as the senses. "The Da Vinci Code," despite the burden of expectation and hype, fulfills this task as a piece of mainstream filmmaking that refuses to short-change its audience. Still, despite its craftsmanship, the narrative doesn't really pick up pace until after a fairly turgid first hour-and-a-half -- and then it's helter-skelter until the end. It's also not without its moments of unintentional humor. Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Aflred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Bettany and Jean Reno. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Produced by Brian Grazer, John Calley, Todd Hallowell and Dan Brown. A Columbia release. Supernatural thriller. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content. Running time: 152 min

Tags: Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Aflred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Produced by Brian Grazer, John Calley, Todd Hallowell, Dan Brown, Columbia, Supernatural thriller
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