Review by Paul Stathakis | May 15, 2009

Leave it to Langdon

Robert Lang­don is no stranger when it comes to mys­ter­ies involv­ing the Catholic Church, codes, and sym­bols. Here we find the Har­vard sym­bol­o­gist on a dar­ing mis­sion in Vat­i­can City. He has but a few hours to dis­cov­er the loca­tion of a tick­ing bomb. The bomb, we’re told, is made from a sub­stance called “anti-mat­ter.” What is anti-mat­ter exact­ly? Vit­to­ria explains that a tiny sub­stance can elim­i­nate Vat­i­can City and half of Rome. Lang­don races through the streets of Vat­i­can City, in build­ings, through secret pas­sage­ways, and even in the Vat­i­can archives. He is some­thing of a won­der. He spots sym­bols on the ground, in books, in stat­ues, and quick­ly makes enough con­nec­tions to bring him the next clue and ulti­mate­ly clos­er to the truth. Tom Han­ks recent­ly joked that if he were to com­pete with James Bonds, Indi­ana Jones or Sher­lock Holmes, he would out­smart them. I believe him.

”Angels and Demons” is based on anoth­er of Dan Brown’s suc­cess­ful nov­els. We know about the medi­at­ic storm sur­round­ing the film. Ron Howard was banned from Vat­i­can City and not allowed to film in and around the Vat­i­can. But yet, watch­ing the film, no one will be able to spot a recon­struct­ed set. The set dec­o­ra­tion is out­stand­ing and it serves as the back­drop of a political/religious mystery.

Ewan McGre­gor stars as Camer­len­go Patrick McKen­na, a priest who is con­cerned not only about the safe­ty of the Vatican’s Car­di­nals but of the mil­lions unit­ed in St. Peter’s Square for the unveil­ing of the new Pope. With the Con­clave open, four can­di­dates have been con­sid­ered. But after each are mys­te­ri­ous­ly mur­dered, Lang­don sees sim­i­lar­i­ties between the mur­ders which could spell out the return of the Illu­mi­nati. Lang­don is joined by Vit­to­ria Vetra (Ayelet Zur­er). Ear­ly on in the film, we learn that Vetra was part of a sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment relat­ed to the cre­ation of anti-mat­ter. But when a physi­cist  in the lab­o­ra­to­ry is mur­dered and a can­is­ter of anti-mat­ter is miss­ing, she and Lang­don embark on a jour­ney to dis­cov­er who could be behind the plot to destroy Vat­i­can City. They race against time (and we get the usu­al time reminders through­out) to pre­vent catastrophe.

The film reunites actor Tom Han­ks and direc­tor Ron Howard who proved with “The Da Vin­ci Code” that they could make good thrillers. “Angels and Demons” is not any dif­fer­ent. In fact, unlike “Da Vin­ci”, “Angels and Demons” cuts to the chase and incor­po­rates more action and thrills. Con­sid­er a scene where Lang­don is trapped with a guard in one of the Vatican’s archival facil­i­ties. The pow­er is cut and an elec­tric dis­play on the wall reveals that the oxy­gen lev­el is run­ning low­er by the sec­ond. With­out elec­tric­i­ty, the men can­not escape through the elec­tric doors. How does Lang­don get him­self out of this one?

The ads for the film are not as reveal­ing as I had imag­ined they would be. The film, like “Da Vin­ci”, has many twists and turns and the real mys­tery is only revealed in the last twen­ty or so min­utes. How­ev­er implau­si­ble the process of the inves­ti­ga­tion is, the find­ings and con­nec­tions, Lang­don makes for a strong Amer­i­can hero. He is intel­li­gent. We know that his knowl­edge goes beyond sym­bols and codes. He ref­er­ences Chaucer and Shake­speare and knows his reli­gion well although he ques­tions faith.

The film con­dens­es a great deal of mate­r­i­al into a two-hour run­ning time. Con­se­quent­ly, parts of  Brown’s nov­el were left out of the script. I sus­pect any­one who’s read the nov­el and enjoyed it will want to go back to it to relive a cer­tain excite­ment that the film fails to evoke. I won’t deny that there is sus­pense and I won’t deny that the sto­ry is grip­ping. There is enough smart dia­logue and sus­pense to sat­is­fy any intel­lect or any­one who is inter­est­ed in secret soci­eties (in this case the Illu­mi­nati). But the book paints its own mag­i­cal scenery and some­how Lang­don always seems more involved in the nov­el than he does on screen. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best actor for the part is Tom Han­ks. I think Brown would agree that he has the qual­i­ties of Lang­don. He fits Brown’s descrip­tion from “The Da Vin­ci Code” (“Har­ri­son Ford in Har­ris tweed”)  To top it off, Han­ks suits the image of the intel­lect and he’s a lik­able pro­tag­o­nist. He’s smart, fun­ny, and per­sis­tent. If there’s a prob­lem some­where in the world that no one has an answer for, I expect Lang­don to show up and solve it.


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