Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on The Da Vinci Code

(Spoilers...please skip if you haven't seen DVC yet)

In my opinion, if it weren’t for Tom Hanks’ hairstyle in The Da Vinci Code, Paul Bettany would be a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His portrayal of the violent, manipulated and misguided muscleman is nothing short of magnificant. Bettany physically morphs into a powerful, sinister figure, his face reflecting danger, sorrow, confusion, mystery, often all at once.

Early on he gets a terrific sequence from the director to help him lay the foundation for his character. Shown in grainy flashback, director Ron Howard sketches Silas’ salient history in a few scenes blending sound and color (and lack of it) beautifully to leave us breathless. And it left me wanting more of Silas in the movie. In a key scene where he repents after a hideous murder, Bettany shows us that Silas is violent and passionate but not psychotic. Rather he’s shaped by events to be just what he is – and that is his character’s strength and tragedy.

Bettany gets considerable help from a veteran – fellow English actor Alfred Molina – who is able to fully realize a tender, symbiotic yet exploitative relationship with Silas with minimal screen time. Which means, Howard gets to focus more time on Ian McKellan, and rightly so because McKellan (hey, these English actors are crawling out of the woodwork in this flick) turns in an excellent performance like clockwork. However, disappointing box office returns, religious controversy and ultimately (and might I add unfair) ridicule over Hank’s hairstyle put a lot of people off this movie as a prestige project worth handing an Oscar to. Don’t let that disappoint you, Paul! We’re passionately impressed!

I was a bit surprised after watching The DaVinci Code because it isn’t a half bad movie. I think screenplay writer Akiva Goldsmith missed a trick by following the structure of the book too faithfully. An explosive shootout in which the bad guys cop it is usually a climax that signals the end of a movie. We’ve watched so many Hollywood movies that follow this formula that expectations are wired inside of us. DVC then carries on for a good 20 minutes after that tying up loose ends. It is in those last minutes that DVC loses the fight to become a really good film.

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