Synopsis – When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.
My Take – Author Dan Brown’s novels have a similar format – earth shattering reveals, conspiracies, murder, code breaking, the culprit hiding in plain sight, hidden agendas, the lead running around an European city through ancient secret tunnels and assassins out to kill the leads from the get go. In yet another case of a novel being better than the film, producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard’s adaption of the controversial earlier novels with Tom Hanks as the lead symbologist Robert Langdon have ranged from humdrum (2006’s The DaVinci Code) to surprisingly exciting (2009’s Angels & Demons). After tracing Christ’s bloodline and preventing the Vatican from blowing up, what’s left for Harvard brain-box Robert Langdon to do? Well of course their is nothing better than to save humanity from reaching its fast tracked yet impending extinction. Sure, the plot is all nonsensical, but oddly enough, despite the inconceivable proceedings, the film works as one of the most gentle apocalyptic thriller ever made. Feeling more like a tone down Bond film and more eccentric than the recycled pseudo-histories of the earlier adaptions, this Ron Howard film despite against all odds, is surprisingly enjoyable.
Based on the novel of the same name (which is technically the 4th adventure in the Langdon series, as for some reason Sony decided to skip the 3rd novel i.e. The Lost Symbol) the story follows famous symbologist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with a head injury and no memory as to what has happened within the last few days. While his on call doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) prepares to helps him get comfortable in order to recover his memory, an implacable assassin Vayentha (Ana Ularu) dressed as a cop starts shooting at them. On the run, with just an image of Dante’s Inferno filled with hints in a sealed capsule in his hand, the two must band together to stop a deadly virus cooked up by the now deceased billionaire biologist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) from leashing upon the world. Hot on the trail is local cop Christoph Bruder (Omar Sy), the security forces of the W.H.O lead by Dr. Elizabeth Sinkey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) & Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), the head of a mysterious organization called Consortium. If Langdon and Brooks fail, this will mean the end of the world and of mankind. The film moves in a break-neck speed just like any chase film, with Langdon and his latest side-kick pursued by almost everyone in the cast and with Howard inter-cutting his action with Langdon’s odd visions of doom – all geysers of blood and sinners twisted in torment – there’s the sense that he’s rather enjoying getting his teeth into another of Brown’s page-turning stories. It’s enough to ensure a breathless first hour that takes in everything from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Boboli Gardens, interspersed by nuggets of Wikipedia knowledge, visuals from a drone’s POV and hellish dream sequences that give the film a stylistic audacity absent from its 2006 and 2009 predecessors. Like previous Brown films, this film has a strong resemblance to a James Bond film and a Tintin book; there are picturesque locations, hidden clues and mysterious characters with inscrutable agendas. While the film’s mid-section somewhat slows down, with too much time spent observing Langdon alternately pointing at old works of art or complaining about his nagging headache. Howard soon gets things rolling again, though, and the film rallies for a final couple of reels that are both daft and quite exciting. Sure, the standard logical questions apply. Why not just deploy the weapon immediately? Why only develop one single stock of the weapon and keep it in one single location? Why build a series of elaborate clues that could lead your followers to it, but could also lead any of your opponents to it? There are any number of interesting ideas that bounce off that central premise, from the question of whether the film’s antagonist ever really planned to detonate his weapon to the idea that he was horrified by the reality of what he had created. The film brushes past these questions, instead offering the safest answer. The clues are there because this is a Robert Langdon story, and that means that there have to be clues for Robert Langdon to solve to lead him to the centre of a dastardly conspiracy.
It is such a strange set-up that it becomes almost appealing, particularly the sense that Robert Langdon has developed into this weird hybrid of an afternoon quiz show contestant and a middle-aged Jason Bourne. The other characters seem genuinely awed by Langdon’s ability to remember esoteric details. It is intriguing to see such a character at the centre of a film that features all the trappings of modern action films, from constant surveillance to shadowy cabals to automatic rifles. While the film also used Budapest as a double, there’s a lovely blend of real and staged which is as good as seamless that you’ll find in a blockbuster today. Designer Peter Wenham has delivered a world that seduces the viewer throughout the running time into blind acceptance, with CG bells and whistles pulled right back to the dream sequences. Hans Zimmer scores and there’s some nice early work with sound editing, particularly in the hospital as Langdon wakes up with some rather selective amnesia. Its his pulsating soundtrack that keeps the film motoring along, even in its more listless moments; the use of a largely electronic score’s quite a bold choice for a film with so much Renaissance art and architecture around, and it’s a gamble that really pays off when contrasted with the aggressive editing. Although some of the film’s many twists are not that surprising, they’re satisfyingly delivered. Despite this the film still leaves a small feeling of a missed opportunity. Having already taken two rides on the Dan Brown road, shouldn’t this have been the one where director Ron got better. This discrepancy is an essential aspect of the film, where it is never entirely clear how serious the film wants the audience to take this action adventure. Whenever the film moves into action mode, it seems ridiculous. These are the portions when the film gets clunky and contrived even the characters need to constantly remind each other that the fate of the human race lies in the balance. And yet, again, in spite of all this, there is something strangely compelling about it. Writer David Koepp has managed a brisk adaptation, although some of the dialogue can feel very forced, particularly when it comes to the clue-solving set-ups, director Ron Howard keeps the viewer constantly occupied and he benefits with having Hanks in the lead. The ever-dependable Tom Hanks, now 60, brings an affectionate dork in the form of Langdon. We all know, Tom Hanks is a charming performer, the kind of person who could safely entrust with the future of mankind and expect to behave a reasonably responsible manner. Felicity Jones makes an admirable effort to showcase her abilities as an actress. She manages to make an unlikely character as Sienna – a doctor, Dante obsessive and former childhood code-breaking prodigy, seem so three-dimensional, which for such kind of action driven film is quite an achievement. Ben Foster in a small role is solid. Irrfan Khan is wryly amusing and scene stealer as always. Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen seem conspicuously wooden when viewed against Hanks and Jones’ sparky turns. On the whole, ‘Inferno’ is a distractingly intense and an amusing film, which despite its oddness is surely the best-looking and sounding Dan Bown adaption we’ve seen so far. What’s next? A HBO adaption of Deception Point, please.
Directed – Ron Howard
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 121 minutes