At the movies: ‘Inferno’ with Tom Hanks
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
* *1/2 (B-)
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Ida Darvish, Paul Ritter
Sony, Rated PG-13, Fantasy, Thriller, 121 minutes
The reason to cast Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon is that, whenever the plot loses its focus, Hanks pulls us into his character. Virtually all characters Hanks portrays are intuitive, smart, optimistic and accessible. If a thoughtful approach and steady hand are required, Hanks is the guy.
Adapted from Dan Brown’s series of novels, Langdon’s particular skill set is once again in demand. This time his ability to solve riddles by interpreting symbols is needed to follow clues embedded in Dante’s “Inferno.” The need is urgent because billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) is poised to unleash a pandemic virus.
After landing in the hospital with a head wound and no memory of the past 48 hours, Langdon finds both a medical doctor and sidekick in Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who spirits Langdon to safety when a lone wolf assassin (Ana Ularu) arrives to kill him.
Dan Brown fans know conspiracy theories are the author’s thing. In this film, they come at Langdon from every conceivable angle.
In addition to the assassin, the pair are pursued by the World Health Organization (WHO). Langdon’s old flame, WHO Director Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), is personally on hand to lead the search for Langdon, but suspecting her of ulterior motives, WHO agent in charge, Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), keeps much of what he learns, concerning Langdon’s whereabouts, to himself. Finally, security analyst Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan) takes a personal interest because Sims runs the security firm, hired by Zobrist, to ensure Zobrist’s mission is completed.
Langdon, along with those seeking to help him or those wanting to kill him, visit museums and historical buildings that display paintings and sculptures associated with Dante’s “Inferno.” Within Dante’s work are clues promising to reveal the virus’s hidden place of storage.
Langdon is familiar with the premise these ancient buildings contain secret doors and passageways, and he’s adept at finding them. Not only are these crannies handy for escaping his pursuers, the dark, cramped spaces add interest to the film’s foot chases.
At its best, Brown’s story is a crime caper, but we’re frequently reminded of the serious issue at the heart of his premise. Zobrist, and perhaps Brown, are obsessed with human overpopulation and to that end Brown squeezes sobering factoids into otherwise amusing hi jinks. (For example: Human population doubles every 50 years and 12 billion people are Earth’s maximum carrying capacity.)
Admirably, Brown engineers a difficult to anticipate plot twist, while director Ron Howard assembles a pile of puzzle pieces into a surprisingly coherent story. Perhaps it isn’t saying much, but this is the best adaptation of a Dan Brown novel to date. Despite a rather clunky storyline, Hanks and other cast members bring lived-in qualities to their characters. The story locations wrangle sufficient amusement value to overcome a good bit of tedium. True, this is all faint praise, but considering the film tours some delightful European sights, the trip is worth the price.