Film Review : Inferno

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

Inferno, for reasons unknown, is being showcased in Ethiopia ahead of its launch in the Western World. The fourth book and third film in Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series, Inferno follows on from The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. With the previous films having received rather average reviews, this time the focus shifts from plot depth to pure entertainment, which it achieves reasonably well - 7 out of 10.

I once caught my mother reading a book. I say ‘caught’ because she was kind of trying to hide the book’s identity. She is not generally shy, but was being cagey about what she was currently reading. Strange behaviour always makes one curious, so I decided to investigate.

What book could cause such a humble woman so much shame, and yet compel her to read even deeper? After several days of intensive research, undercover work and plain old snooping, I finally found out it was The Da Vinci Code.

Mum is very religious, and she has never in her entire life, not even by accident, questioned the existence of God, or the accuracy of the bible. This, under normal circumstances, would make her pious, but in Ethiopia, it only makes her Habesha. She is a typical Ethiopian, and to a person of such makeup, The Da Vinci Code is offensive.

In truth, the book is frivolous; it does not even have an argument. It never actually questions the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ. It makes some assertions about the latter figure that are conspiracy theories, but never creates a discussion that is above melodrama. The book was written simply so that churchgoers would be scandalised into buying and reading it.

Nonetheless, it was also action-packed and very hard to put down – there are just so many juicy plot twists and puzzles, and it is so rich with history. Reading it is actually a lot like riding a rollercoaster, as opposed to delving into a piece of literature. The author’s (Dan Brown) only concern was putting together a suspenseful storyline, and telling it plainly – through the use of easy vocabulary and simple sentences. This made the book feel a lot like a movie script.

The Da Vinci Code, the movie, should have been much better than it otherwise turned out to be. Not just because Brown wrote it so that it would be easy to adapt, but also because the film had the likes of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard working to bring it to life.

Inferno, the latest Robert Langdon adventure, will be released to Western cinemas in a couple of days. There is no need to wait for anyone in Ethiopia though – Matti Cinema is already showing the movie. Why the privilege? I do not know and I do not care, because Inferno is a worthwhile watch.

Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed to find himself in Florence, Italy. He is suffering from a gunshot wound to his head and has no memory of the past two days. A beautiful doctor, Sienna, is attending him. She tells him that he was mumbling something as he came into the ER.

This is all the repose Langdon gets in this movie. Minutes later, a woman dressed in police clothes comes into the hospital and tries to kill him.

Langdon, with the help of Sienna, slowly discovers that his predicament must in some way be connected to the radical billionaire, Bertrand Zobrist, who died recently after several years in hiding. Zobrist argues, rationally, that there are too many people in the world for the Earth to support. He also argues, irrationally, that this population should be sliced in half right away. Therefore, he creates a deadly virus to be released on a certain date and time, influenced, for some reason, by Dante’s famous Inferno.

The movie uses a lot of biblical imagery, unlike the two other movies in the franchise that also centred on the mythology of Christianity. The plot in itself is fast paced, and the editing is frenzied. I think Howard is finally getting used to what is essentially a suspense film with no theme or meaning whatsoever. If we look at The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, what is easily discernible is that both movies fall apart when they try to say something. It is finally occurring to Howard that some movies are never meant to be anything more than weekend entertainment.

Of course, when Howard gets a saner project, he is an ace of a director. Movies like Frost/Nixon and Rush are cases in point. He is a lot like Rob Reiner; a good number of his films are reasonable commercial and critical successes, but his legacy would probably lie in one of the greatest TV shows ever made, Arrested Development, which he produced. Howard is a hard worker, and he has directed one other film this year, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, which critics promise is the better movie.

The first time Howard and Hanks collaborated was way back in 1984 for the soapy romantic comedy, Splash, which had the gullible Hanks falling for a mermaid. The film has not aged well, but it gave its lead actor a chance at stardom, which, I am happy to say, Hanks put to good use. He filled the same hole Jimmy Stewart left when he stopped appearing in movies. Nonetheless, I have never believed Hanks was the best choice to play Langdon, just as there were so many other directors who could have done the franchise more justice (which, granted, is more than the books deserve).

The initial reception of Inferno has been less than lukewarm, probably because of the history of the previous films. I did not think it was that bad a movie, especially as the film improves upon the book’s terrible ending, where Brown forgives a character for unwarranted reasons. The film shrewdly gets rid of that ending, but also settles for a more optimistic one. Nothing is perfect, I guess, and a sequel, even less so.

By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Oct 25,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 860]



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