Monday, June 08, 2009

Angels & fuselage.

Huh? No, not a serious discussion of Air France Flight 447, but rather a pan of the devastatingly horrible latest film by Ron Howard to enter the cloyed atmosphere of Dan Brownia. Ironically it immediately puts me in mind of one of the great American movies of the 1970s: Don Siegel's 1971 masterpiece, Dirty Harry.

Huh? you say again. Laconic hero played by era-defining icon races from one well known site to another in a cat and mouse chase with a perverse serial killer. The differences beyond the obvious Rome versus San Francisco setting; Siegel's tight crisp blocking and easily digestible montages versus Howard's herky jerky handheld operas that read like a Greenglass film on 'roids (see much of first 30 minutes of film as well as McEwan's parachute descent to St. Peter's Square). Furthermore, Siegel builds tensions through the Fink's scripts showing us believable distances to be traversed by an ever tiring Eastwood. He actually sweats on screen. Any perspiration we perceive on Hanks has been backlit by Haskell Wexler and skillfully applied by makeup & wardrobe from an atomizer. Yes you can get from church to church to church in the time allotted, but it all still seems unreal, staged, extremely photogenic and all around too good to be true.

What to say about this mess of a movie? In places it's downright beautiful, they certainly put the money they spent on the film on the screen. The recreations of various iconic spots in Roma are believable. Director Ron Howard is at his best in painterly moments where he can compose shots like a grand master. Think the scene when the Camarlengo (Ian McEwan) is invited to the conclave by the College of Cardinals. He enters the Sistine Chapel and they face him arrayed for all to see like a Raphael or Velasquez masterpiece. Here the movie shines as it does in some of the acting perfirmance specifically Armin Mueller-Stahl as the crafty veteran Cardinal who pursues gentleness at almost all costs and Stellan Skarsgard as the Germanic head of the Swiss Guards. Even McEwan shows greater depth of range than he did as a young Obi Wan Kenobi. At least it's an improvement over The Da Vinci Code, not that that's much of a recommendation.

So the biggest problem with the whole Dan Brown mania is his own self-presentation as a popinjay. He sells his books based on absurd claims about how detailed is their research and how accurate his portrayals. Like in Angels & Demons fer instance [THERE BE SPOILERS COMING] where Langdon and Vittoria discover the secret passageway between Castel San Angelo and the Papal Apartments of Vatican City. Well yes there is such a passetto; only it's no secret, below is a map from a decades-old Michelin Guide to Rome clearly marking said passage way for tourists. Sorry Dan you lose.The scans do not lie: You are a buffoon and a fraud. But don't worry nobody will ever get their ill-spent money back.

Final verdict: Without the aid of antimatter device, this movie crashes and burns on impact. Avoid like the plague. Read a real historical mystery thriller like Waterland, The Daughter of Time, or The Wench is Dead. Or go see Possession or The French Lieutenant's Woman instead.


Francesca said...

I just now stopped reading the New Yorker review half way through, because overall I agree with what you say, even though I haven't seen the movie, or read the book. I watched the French Lieutenant's Woman when it came out though (can you believe it, I used to go REGULARLY to the cinema!) and, again, I'm with you. I can't work your "possession" link, which one are you referring to?

G. E. Light said...

Sorry I fixed that link a cut and paste error from My bad. The film version of A. S. Byatt's novel, by the way.