‘Da Vinci Code’ provides much to think about | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Da Vinci Code’ provides much to think about

Simon Mein / Columbia Pictures / Agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) try to decipher a chain of cryptic codes and puzzles in "The Da Vinci Code."

Not since the burning of The Beatles’ records back in the ’60s has there been an outcry from those in some religious circles over the sanctity of Christ. Back then, John Lennon made a comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, and now Jesus is at the center of another controversy that has many people more than a little ticked off.

I imagine the ink that follows this movie in some part will make people want to see “The Da Vinci Code” just because of the notoriety and publicity that follows such controversies. But a boycott? Well, we’ll see, but I haven’t seen so much hoopla surrounding a movie since Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the last century. Mel Gibson’s “Passion of The Christ” benefited from bringing the story of Jesus to the big screen, but in no way can you compare his subject matter to what director Ron Howard’s interpretation is offering up. Protests and controversy notwithstanding, Howard’s task of bringing one of the most popular and controversial books to the big screen doesn’t leave much room for a grey area, now does it? Then again, tackling author Dan Brown’s controversial thriller with some revisions from screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (the Oscar winner for “A Beautiful Mind,” “Cinderella Man”) … well, you’re bound to tick off some segment of the population – and they do. Just keep reminding yourself, “It’s only a movie.” OK, well that didn’t work.

While watching the film unfold, I kept thinking there was no way a Hollywood studio would have come up with such an original concept revolving around cryptic codes, symbols, secret cults interspersed with religious history and more messages found in artwork that seemed too obvious to have been overlooked. Could we have been that clueless not to have sensed something was going on here? Then again, it’s not often you get a movie that, at its core, undermines the fundamental teachings of Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. Bring up the subject that Jesus had an alleged relationship with Mary Magdalene, and a lineage tied to that, and books will burn (as well as tempers). Factor in the revision of Western Civilization as we know it, and you have to keep reminding yourself again that hey, it’s just a movie and one guy’s theory.

Hmmmm … but boycotting a movie? I would think that those who are offended use this publicity to teach their doctrine and let the masses out there make their decisions based on each other’s presentation. The studio will benefit the most as this movie will probably be No. 1 at the box office regardless.

The international cast includes Tom Hanks as Harvard religious symbiologist Robert Langdon. While in Paris on business, Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call. Turns out famed museum curator Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle) has been murdered.

Along with French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (“Amélie’s” Audrey Tautou), Langdon begins to piece together parts of a broad puzzle that include Da Vinci paintings that will lead to the discovery of a religious mystery that has been protected by the Priory of Sion, a secret society, for over 2,000 years. And when you mess with Christianity, or attempt to alter the gospel and the written word, heads will roll – and they do.

Soon Langdon himself is a key suspect in the murder, and while he is getting chased, it becomes obvious (or does it?) that there are factions who want him gone at several different levels. Sophie warns that there are those who want him out of the picture, yet she herself is one of the clues that factors into the puzzle that Langdon has slowly unraveled.

The stellar cast saves the movie from being too drawn-out at times, and at 21Ú2 hours, it feels it. Things start off quite briskly with British actor Paul Bettany (as albino monk Silas), who is more than guilty of committing several sins. He’s the modern-day hitman from Opus Dei, the Catholic sect that supposedly wants to keep the truth hidden, including Alfred Molina’s Bishop Aringarosa, a member as well and defender of the Holy doctrine. French judicial police captain Bezu Fache is played convincingly enough by Jean Reno. It’s interesting to note that the name Bezu is the location of a Knights Templar fortress in Southern France, and Fache means cross in French.

Another excellent cast member is Sir Ian McKellen, who portrays Sir Leigh Teabing, a former mentor of Langdon. It is Teabing’s quest for the Holy Grail that offers up the most exciting clues in the movie, including that famous scene from Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” As in the book, his character here is pivotal to many of the “codes” that are found throughout.

Rounding out the movie is Hans Zimmer’s score, which gets on the nerves a bit at times. Sometimes silence is truly golden. Sorry, Hans. And where was Clint Howard? That’s the best part of any Ron Howard movie: seeing where his younger brother pops up.

The book is actually more expressively direct when it comes to tackling the questions about the divinity of Jesus Christ. Even the chemistry between Langdon and Neveu is stiff on the big screen compared to the novel, and Langdon here is way more of a skeptic than his character in the book.

All that said, the movie does make you think, and will spur discussions from both sides of the aisle, and that, to me, is worth something.

In a summer that has lots of movies based on comic book characters, car crashes and animated overkill, “The Da Vinci Code” will leave you talking about the sometimes-touchy subject of religion long after the other movies have finished. Not a great flick, but not a turkey either.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “The Da Vinci Code”

Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Clive Carter and Seth Gabel

Directed by: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing images, violence, some nudity, some blasphemy, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content

Length: 150 minutes

Howie gives it: 3 out of 5 bagels

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