Circumspect and overtly middlebrow, The Da Vinci Code flirts with the arcane and sacrilegious, hiding an intellectually-stimulating alternative to Christian history beneath the sheen of big-ticket spectacle. Theistic debate as fodder for popcorn cinema is peculiar enough to warrant interest, especially when exploring the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but Ron Howard’s adaptation never aims to stimulate the mind or obliterate the senses, instead passing muted emotion and vague mystery off as commercial product.
Anchored by Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a professor of symbology with photographic memory and trauma-based claustrophobia, the narrative underplays any quirk of character to avoid hampering the mechanical progression of its plot, pivoting from point to point with minimal reflection. Swept up in a murder investigation during a Parisian speaking tour, Langdon is beckoned to decipher the symbols adorning a corpse’s chest, becoming the prime suspect after a sect of religious zealots finger him as an enemy of the faith. Aided by the victim’s granddaughter (Audrey Tautou) and hounded by a self-flagellating assassin (Paul Bettany), Langdon goes on a wild goose chase through secluded sacristies and twilight-lit galleries, pursuing answers in a search for the Holy Grail and the covert cabal that protects its secret.
Shifting between three storylines, all of which unravel concurrently, the script generates curiosity through intermittent passages of revisionist history, squandering opportunity through wordy exchanges that wrap trivialities in florid prose. This compositional murkiness and lack of purpose spills over into the photography, each shot cloaked in perpetual night and underlit, mistaking lack of visual detail for mystique. The color palette is just as washed-out as the art direction, utilizing soft hologram and gauzy blue filter to evoke the past, effectively sapping the medium’s primary vehicle for symbol of its vitality.
As for any controversy garnered by this disingenuous cash grab, it’s all whisked away in an uncluttered coda that further proliferates the ecclesiastical folklore the previous two acts aimed to subvert. Valid points made about sexuality and church-supported misogyny are surrendered once spoken by the chief antagonist, lending credence to the blindly faithful and admonishing the skeptical for traces of doubt. Having said that, I realize that believers rarely abandon their faith, even if presented with facts that impart logical explanations onto the supernatural. At its core, religion is more about comfort than practicality and Ron Howard is as guilty as his audience when it comes to embracing the easiest answer. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the only provocation in this quasi-cerebral potboiler is an interminable dullness, dousing the flames of dissent in a sea of moralist drivel.
The Da Vinci Code (Columbia Pictures, 2006)
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Dan Brown (novel) and Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Photographed by Salvatore Totino