Do you remember, a few years ago now, when Dan Brown suddenly became the most popular author in the country for a year or so? People lapped up his mixture of poor prose and poor knowledge of history, geography, art – his books flew off the shelf, and led to the inevitable movie. The Da Vinci Code, closely followed by Angels and Demons, were just like the books – they believed that they were highbrow, without any real substance to them. The inexplicable third film, Inferno, follows the same pattern, with a bored-looking Tom Hanks going through the motions. At least it has some nice scenery again.
Professor of symbology Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, and teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor that he hopes will help him recover his memories. Langdon soon learns that he is fighting against a mysterious enemy with a plot based in one of history’s most enduring literary masterpieces – Dante’s Inferno. The professor, piecing together his fractured memory, realises that he must race across Europe to solve an ingenious riddle that threatens half of the human race. With enemies around every corner, Langdon must decode the mixture of classical art and futuristic science before it is too late.
Much like the books, there is little to Inferno, despite my efforts to make the plot sound engaging. The characters use big words and talk about art as though there is anything to it but, the moment you actually think about the story at all, it falls like a house of cards. I’m told by people who have read the book that the film is just like it, so in that respect, it’s a good job – in any other, though, it fails. This is a picture full of daft plot holes that stand up to no scrutiny (and a wonderfully underwhelming plot twist), and where we find flashbacks in flashbacks that are only marginally eclipsed by the CGI-dream sequences that help lower the ante, rather than suggesting the apocalypse may be any threat.
The film manages to commit a cinema undoable in wasting Tom Hanks – here, he gives a performance that seems as though he simply wasn’t trying. It’s now his third film as the character, and he has failed to make the man even remotely engaging. Jones adds a bit of pep, but she works more as plot device than person, striving to keep the movie moving forward at all times. Our supporting cast is a touch more interesting – Sidse Babett Knudsen plays a WHO agent who is underserved by a subplot about Langdon’s past, but she feels a real character. We also get a bit of levity from Irrfan Khan, as the shadowy head of a security company or something.
It is a shame that the source material is quite so dull, because director Ron Howard is a competent hand behind the cinema, and he manages to generate a sense of urgency against all odds. The set-pieces and chases aren’t too good, but the pacing means that you never feel as though it has stalled at any point and, perhaps more importantly with films like this, it always remains impressive to look at. The direction and the cinematography mean that your eyes will be treated, even if your brain isn’t.
Perhaps I’m overthinking a film like Inferno, and that its generic popcorn thrills should be sufficient – it tries to have a complicated story (and when it doesn’t, it buries you in plotlines), but its focus is on thrilling first and foremost. But then, it doesn’t even really manage to do that. This is shallow stuff masquerading as high art, and I imagine you’ll be able to find something better on the big screen.
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Felicity Jones (Sienna Brooks), Omar Sy (Christoph Bouchard), Irrfan Khan (Harry Sims), Sidse Babett Knudsen (Elizabeth Sinskey), Ben Foster (Betrand Zobrist)
Running Time: 121 Mins