Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Reel Review: INFERNO

Despite the talent involved, author Dan Brown’s series of novels involving Professor Robert Langdon, famous symbologist, have not translated well to the big screen. Using ancient and obscure history to drive the stories, a ton of backstory is needed at all times, and for the screen, the history lessons tend to bog things down, and leaving the backstories out leaves a shallow and pointless film. Such is the challenge for director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks in their third time out with Prof. Langdon.

Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital with amnesia. He and his doctor, Sienna (Felicity Jones) narrowly avoid an assassination attempt and find themselves on a trail of clues involving Dante, the famous medieval poet…with the clues set down by Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire activist who has a solution to the world’s overcrowding.

Much like, if not exactly like its predecessors, INFERNO spends all of its time with Langdon and a female counterpart bouncing from one ancient place or museum to another, deciphering hidden clues on paintings which lead them to yet another old place with even more clues. In a paperback novel, it makes for a nice page-turner, and for a film it seems like it would make for a fun point-by-point adventure. Structure is everything in a movie like this; characters have to move from one place to another in a way that makes sense. But director Ron Howard and screenwriter David Koepp seem to be overburdened with the weight of the source material. Characters do indeed race from one place to another while being hunted by mysterious parties, but inbetween every point there are long monologues/history lessons which comes across as baby-garble. Nothing is made very clear, and as each new location comes into frame, it’s easy to wonder why exactly characters are going there. Worse, the film relies on a ton of convenience (characters just happen to be in the right place at the right time for no logical reason), and by the time the film ends, there are several plot-threads that are never wrapped up. Characters do things for no reason other than plot…which makes INFERNO a muddled, messy, confusing soup-sandwich of a movie.

Howard has some serious pacing issues in the editing room. Things click along nicely for a spell but then grind to a halt one too many times for another history lesson; lessons which confuse and smear the lens more than tell a story. Howard’s camera does some neat things and the worldwide locations look beautiful, and in a nice touch, often films scenes with crowds upon crowds of people to drive home the message of world overcrowding. Hans Zimmer’s score recycles some of his old themes from the previous films while throwing in some retro 1980’s-era cues.

Acting is a snore all around. Tom Hanks feels like he should have grown into the role in his third time out as Langdon, but he comes across as Tom Hanks and not Langdon. Felicity Jones is fine, and her character has some interesting turns, but she has zero chemistry with Hanks. The supporting cast, which includes Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, and Sidse Babett Knudsen are all fine.

INFERNO wants to present itself as a thinking-man’s intellectual thriller, but despite all of the showing off of its knowledge of history…ends the film with a bunch of fist-fights. It doesn’t work, although the characters punching each other is (ahem) symbolic of INFERNO; a talented group of actors and filmmakers beating the snot out of what should have been a true brain-burner. INFERNO is an ugly, incomplete film which makes no sense. Throw this one into the fire-pit.


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