Sunday, May 24, 2009

Film Review: Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons
Directed by Ron Howard
Released May 15, 2009

Tom Hanks returns as Harvard’s Professor Robert Langdon in Ron Howard’s sequel to his 2006 film “The Da Vinci Code.” This time around, Langdon isn’t just gallivanting around France with Audrey Tautou, but he’s surrounded by a whole entourage of bickering police officers and security guards struggling to uncover the mystery of the Illuminati, an ancient Christian brotherhood determined to lash out against the Catholic Church and prevent the Vatican from choosing a new Pope. With a whole bunch of people involved, there’s all the more possibility for excitement, but there’s just as much chaos and disorder in store for the film’s large cast of characters.

Hanks is a great actor who has had many terrific performances in the past, but this certainly isn’t one of them. It could be his hair, since a similar poorly chosen hairstyle seemed to decrease the acting ability of one Nicolas Cage. All kidding aside, it’s the true mark of an effortless performance when an actor whose face alone has conveyed extremely complex emotions in films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Cast Away” looks puzzled and uncertain all the time. He could really have made the most of the role, but the finished product isn’t much to show off. His supporting cast is full of other actors who have done better work, and it would have been nice to see Stellan Skarsgard get truly angry as the head of the pope’s security or Ewan McGregor show both his softer and harsher sides as the pope’s right-hand man. The real find among the cast is Pierfrancesco Favino as one of the many inspectors working to help Langdon, who manages to put in much more than his role demands and shine among a crowded and overstuffed cast.

The film’s plot is more realistic and tempered than that of “The Da Vinci Code,” demanding far less suspension of disbelief from the viewer and shying away from fantasy elements that pervaded the first film. Despite that, the massive strength and reach of the Illuminati conspiracy Langdon fights against is more than hard to believe. The extent to which the Vatican itself has been infiltrated makes the film much less compelling and effective. The exploration of religion and science that the film begins to touch on is fascinating, but it gets caught up in fanciful twists and surprising events. It could have been a far more complex film dealing with theological and philosophical issues, but instead it’s a disappointing thriller that manages to keep its viewer on the edge of his seat but somehow still leave unsatisfied.


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