Let’s help Tom Hanks’s career, or ‘Dan Brown has much to answer for’

by TheLitCritGuy


Can anyone remember a good Tom Hanks movie? I mean, seriously, what’s the guy done lately that has done well? No, I’m not counting a certain animated franchise involving Toys and Stories but live action, him, in the flesh. Saving Private Ryan? Years ago. Castaway? Eons ago. Now, don’t get me wrong, Hanks as an actor is nigh on impossible to dislike and I think the man does have some seriously good acting chops. Wait a sec, Road to Perdition! That was brilliant! Aaaaaaand done in 2002. Catch me if you can! That was a fantastic film! Classy, funny and some great acting. Aaaaaaaand DONE IN 2002! AGAIN. Come on Tom, help me out here.

The little rambling introduction should serve as a mild mea culpa for the unfortunate Hanks and a good explanation of why he felt that this was time to make a jump back into the big leagues. He needed a hit, a global smash that could be turned into a star vehicle to take him back to the top of the heap of Hollywood’s A-list actors. Maybe a book? Maybe the biggest selling book of 2003 that didn’t star a certain boy wizard. Maybe, The Da Vinci Code

Oh Tom. Oh Tom, Tom, Tom. Don’t worry, I don’t judge you. It must have all made such sense at the time. Or maybe it was like an illicit thrill. Like an affair, or hard drugs. Somehow then, your old pal Ron Howard called you up – you worked together in the past on some great movies so obviously I can see how he must have been a persuading factor. The only reasonable solution I can think of is after Dan Brown milked the studio executives of something like $5 MILLION he managed to suck in poor defenceless Ron Howard, who, with the zeal of a recent convert to a cult dragged in Hanks. I don’t want to imagine any other way of this happening because that means that the man who was once thought to be the next James Stewart of modern American cinema is, well, an idiot…

But OK, when I started this blog I signed up for not just dealing with the good but also giving a few kicks to the stuff that deserves it. And, oh-my-word does this have it coming…

So, as if you didn’t know the Da Vinci code is a psudeo-historical thriller featuring a Harvard symbology academic who helps unravel a Catholic conspiracy theory involving the covering up of the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married and produced an heir. The church, fearing the power of the bloodline has been trying to kill the survivors off for the past thousand years, whilst the remaining carriers of the royal bloodline are defended by the Priory of Sion. Yes. I think. Now, if those preceding sentences had made you nod sagely and stroke your chin and think, ‘well quite! What an excellent idea! Finally, the revelation we’ve all been waiting for!’ Then, I suggest you report to the nearest medical facility and let the doctors know that you have been living very happily with your mouth and arse in the opposite places.

For the rest of the population who do not suffer from mouth/arse inversion then you will of course recognise that the plot is completely bonkers. The book’s success largely depended upon the writers ability to generate a plot with enough twists and some fairly obscure facts and historical theories to keep people interested. Nothing else. The characters are clichéd, the dialogue is absurd and the writing is HORRIBLE. There are, frankly, far too many sentences I could quote but for a good overview of what Dan Brown considers a publishable sentence please read the article below, written by the excellent Tom Chivers. (@TomChivers on Twitter)


Yet, the book sold by the truck load and thus, the movie studio came a-calling…

So, here’s the question – will poor source material be rescued by excellent adaptation? Can the great Ron Howard rescue this??

NO. Not even close. This is not a terrible film, nor a terrible adaptation, it is just hugely, massively mediocre. But before I nail the coffin lid down on this one, let’s get the positives out of the way.Don’t worry, it won’t take long.

– Tom Hanks is Robert Langdon. He’s OK. Hampered by a poor script and a character arc that sees him go from being the history academic accusing another character of twisting facts to suit his weird theories to being the man who FINDS THE HOLY GRAIL!

– Ian McKellen and Jean Russo are the main supporting characters and are both woefully too good to be in this film. All Russo has to do is glower and speak French and McKellen camps his way through his villain scenes, clearly enjoying himself. I just hope that they both managed to put in really nice swimming pools on their third house.

– It looks nice.

That is really about all I can think of.

I’m going to try to keep the rest of this review short so I will be glossing over some of the sins of this film…

Firstly, the script. Dan Brown is a frankly awful writer of dialogue and an awful literary stylist. All the scriptwriter had to do is to take the plot, (the one good thing about this book) and brush up on the conversation. Still, the film struggles to string together a sequence where characters actually sound like real people. Either the dialogue is short and slightly odd, or the film swings far too far the other way. There are at least two ten to fifteen minute scenes where all that happens is that characters explain some odd historical theories. The plot doesn’t move forward, characters aren’t developed, the movie pauses for a conspiracy theory lecture. Yes, they sprinkle in some nice CGI, (except for one staggeringly pointless use of it where the two leads walk into Westminster Abby) but these scenes are mind-blowingly dull, to the point where I’m relieved that Paul Betney tries to shoot someone!

Ah, Paul. A great British actor but he really is one of the worst things about this film. Not through any fault of his own but thanks to one simple truth. Paul Betney is not scary. At all. He’s dashing, charming and British but here he plays an albino monk with an accent from, I think, Spain. As a villain he isn’t bad, but I am just not scared of him. At one point the film has him chasing down the two main characters, in a Renault! FLEE! FLEE THE COMING OF THE MONK IN A RENAULT! No wonder Hanks and Tatou aren’t scared of him – so how are we supposed to be?

As I’ve already mentioned here the pacing is inconsistent and the film makes the strange choice to re-order certain films from the book. For example Sophie Nevau tells Robert Langdon mid-way through the book why exactly she hasn’t spoken to her grandfather – the scene serves to explain her as a character and the slightly seedy nature of the Priory that her grandfather leads. The film does not do this to the end. Where it serves NO POINT AT ALL! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!

To be honest this is the main problem with the film as an adaptation – the choices made by the screen writer and editor are all the wrong ones! The scenes that slow down the book in places are turned into glacially placed exposition scenes in the movie. The characters are barely characterised and have all the depth of a cardboard cutout. If they had tightened the dialogue and simplified the narrative this could have been an interesting historical thriller, that, (crucially) would have been about thirty minutes shorter. Instead the film smacks of a desire to make a quick buck. I really feel that the people behind thought this would be a quick cash in and they just refused to engage in how to adapt this book properly. To call this film adaptation half-assed is to greatly over-estimate the amount of ass used in this adaptation.

If I can draw anything positive out of this, the lesson seems to be that to adapt something is not something you can do half way. To adapt is a process that requires an understanding of two completely different mediums. It’s something that takes time and a desire to do something special. What it doesn’t take is a desire to make a quick buck from a book that is so horribly written it contaminates everything it touches. To sum up, I think I can leave the last word to the great Stephen Fry, in all of its forms the Da Vinci code is just “arse gravy of the worst kind.”

So thanks for that Mr. Fry. I haven’t even covered the way this is offence to Christians, historians or people who like good writing!


PS: I do feel sorry for Tom Hanks – next time someone offers you something that feels too good to be true, Tom, JUST SAY NO!