Despite missteps ‘Da Vinci’ thrills

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By Johnathan Kroncke

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou star in “The Da Vinci Code.” (Universal Pictures)

By Johnathan Kroncke

The code has been broken and the secret revealed; “The Da Vinci Code” is good, but not great.

Dan Brown’s best-seller turned blockbuster has been highly anticipated by millions of fans for almost two years. But as tends to be the case, the hype outweighs the result.

“The Da Vinci Code” stars Tom Hanks (“The Terminal,” “Forrest Gump”) as Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology who becomes entangled in an ancient war when he is accused of the murder of the curator of the Louvre in Paris.

Of course, this is no ordinary murder as the crime scene is littered with clues left by the deceased curator, a former grand master of a secret society known as the Priory of Scion. The clues left behind do not lead to the identity of the murderer however, but to the secret that the Priory has kept for centuries.

Langdon, along with Sophie Neveu, a young French cryptographer played by Audrey Tautou (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Amelie”) who aids in his escape, embark on an international hunt for the most powerful hidden treasure on Earth. However, the two must enlist the help of one more person if they are to have a prayer of a chance on their endeavor.

No one knows more about the Priory of Scion than Leigh Teabing, played by Ian McKellan (“X-Men,” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) Teabing, a wealthy old Englishman, provides the history of the Priory and their purpose which has been to protect a secret of unbelievable religious importance from the Catholic church for nearly two thousand years.

Paul Bettany (“Wimbledon,” “A Knight’s Tale”) is frightening as Silas, an albino monk under orders from a shadowy offshoot of the Catholic church called Opus Dei. His mission is to kill the Priory members and prevent their secret from destroying his sacred religion.

The most important thing this film does is stay true to the original story in the book. Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. With that kind of audience, it is important to stay within the lines that the novel has drawn and fortunately director Ron Howard has done just that.

Everything from start to finish is presented on screen almost exactly as it is in the pages of the text. Even the scenes cutting from one character to the next are arranged just as the chapters are in the novel. The film is fast paced like the novel as well and keeps audiences riveted, hardly breathing for fear they might miss another important or exciting scene.

But then, this is also the point at which the film fails the book. The first half hour of “The Da Vinci Code” is crammed full of material that is rushed through as quickly as possible in order to get to the next scene and then the next. Little explanation is given for certain key events such as how the clues were constructed and ultimately deciphered.

Understanding that the film has time constraints that the novel does not, Howard would have done better to leave some aspects out in order to make room for a little storytelling and explanation.

The film is still good but feels less like a top flight thriller in its key moments and more like “National Treasure,” a fun-filled but completely preposterous adventure tale that provides audiences with no explanation and little time to think about events that have happened before another one comes along.

The casting of Hanks is also a point at which the filmmakers could have improved. While Hanks is a great actor and owner of a well-deserved Oscar, he seems a bit lost in his character and comes off as awkward at times.

Russell Crowe and George Clooney were both considered for the role and either one would have been a more appropriate choice. However, for whatever reason, Howard chose Hanks instead.

Minor complaints and grievances aside, “The Da Vinci Code” is a very good thriller with a mixture of excitement and intelligence that will appeal to anyone with an open mind.

Sometimes it is easy to pick apart a film like this when perfection is expected, but from a more realistic standpoint, this is an excellent film. It may be as great as some expected, but it is excellent none the less.

The revelations about the Priory of Scion and the Bible are absolutely fascinating and the story will not only make you question your beliefs but also whether or not you should go to the bathroom during the film.

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