Critics so far are giving Da Vinci code mixed reviews but when you're making a film based on a book that apparently has sold more copies than any book since the Bible (as Roger Ebert notes: "good thing it had a different ending") the expectations are going to be hard to live up to. The other mistake critics are making is that they're judging the film along the lines of how controversial it is, and are lampooning the usually middle-of-the-road Ron Howard for once again playing it too safe. That makes no sense to me: a movie has to have picketers at its premiere to be considered successful? The fact is that Howard is in a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't situation with the material and he skirted the controversy smartly by just focusing on making a good movie and even if by sticking to the book he won't get the credit for the great story, that's still exactly what he did.
For those of you that didn't read the book, The Da Vinci Code is an intelligent thriller that starts out with a murder at an art museum in France, and a Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon (Hanks) is called upon to help decipher the victim's dying message. Making their way into the story at intersecting points and building up the suspense level are a French cryptologist and granddaughter of the victim, a police chief with a vendetta (Reno), a bishop who heads a controversial sect of Christianity (Molina), a murderous albino monk (Bettany) and an obsessive British aristocrat (McKellan). The story is filled with cliffhangers and surprises at every turn and the film pretty much follows that same pace, being careful not to cut out too much of the interesting tidbits that made the book so interesting in the first place. The story's genius, after all, comes from playing with familiar historical events suggesting they didn't happen exactly the way we thought they did.
For those of you who have read the book, don't worry, it's not by any means an exact copy of the book. Things are cut and moved around and at least a couple of key elements are changed for the better. For example, Bezu Fache, the policeman, is a member of Opus Dei in the film, which makes for more sensible character motives, and Robert Langdon is a religious man which makes for a slightly more open-ended approach to the religious controvoursey. What really makes the movie work, however, is the casting. Audrey Tatou, Paul Bettany, and Ian McKellan are all vastly underrated actors who give Tom Hanks great support and enhance the movie. McKellan's devious scholar seems to comes straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, and Paul Bettany makes Silas the albino monk sufficiently scary but surprisingly human at the same time.
My friend has a review at: