Inferno - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘Inferno’ burns up our patience


Directed by:  Ron Howard

Written by:  David Koepp, based upon the novel by Dan Brown

Starring:  Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, and Sidse Babett Knudsen


“Inferno” – Around 2005, many of my close friends and casual acquaintances read Dan Brown’s fascinating novel “The Da Vinci Code”, a fictionalized, modern-day thriller which examines clues within famous artworks.  These specific clues lead professor Robert Langdon on a chase to uncover the greatest kept secret of the last two thousand years.   I personally loved the book and remember quickly turning its pages well past midnight for several weekdays and paying a price during the subsequent mornings, when my alarm regularly struck at 6:00 a.m. 


It was worth it. 


In the following year, it was worth experiencing director Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Brown’s famous story – with Tom Hanks playing Langdon - but admittedly, the movie did not capture the magic of the book.  Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman did a Herculean job of including all (or nearly all) of the important steps and details of Langdon’s journey, but these efforts came at a price.  In order to include the novel’s key plot points, the film crowbars several massive concepts and heaps of intricate clues within a two-hour 29-minute runtime.  The constant, “big idea” reveals move at such a hectic pace, a moviegoer truly does not get a chance to stop, breathe and reflect upon the stated ideas and ingenious links to the art world. 


Conversely, a reader can put down the book, take a moment and say, “Wow!”  


The film does not allow for those pauses. In the end, it was pleasing to see Brown’s vision play on the big screen, even though it felt inferior to the reading experience.  


Quite frankly, I do not remember much from the second film adaption of Brown’s work, 2009’s “Angels & Demons”, but I do know that Hanks was back, and I vaguely recall that Ewan McGregor made an appearance too.  Now, in 2016, Langdon is onscreen for a new adventure in “Inferno”.


Hanks reprises his role as Langdon and wakes up in a Florence, Italy hospital with terrible bouts of amnesia and blurry vision, but thankfully, a young doctor named Sienna (Felicity Jones) tends to his injuries, and also his escape.  This is because an assassin runs into the hospital and attempts to kill Langdon. 


Not only is an assassin – who works for some nefarious organization – looking for Langdon, but the World Health Organization is holding a huge interest in him too.   You see, he is carrying an image of Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell, and it could be the key to stopping a mass murder of epic proportions. 


In other words, finding Langdon is a big deal.


Similarly to “The Da Vinci Code”, “Inferno” takes Langdon on a wild race across Europe (and in this case, a small portion of Asia), in which he and Sienna solve various clues in an elaborate puzzle intertwined with religion, art and present day chemistry.  The problem with “The Da Vinci Code” exists here as well.  Cinematically, the extensive brainteasers whip up various facts about the identified artworks, and at every step, Langdon and Sienna solve the impossible riddles so quickly, that the filmmakers only give the audience a minute or two (or sometimes a few seconds) to absorb the movie’s messages.  


I constantly felt that I was 10 minutes behind the narrative and urgently needed to play catch-up.  Additionally, the script introduces several, unexpected – and unneeded - twists.  With a steady stream of swerves and hypotheses flying around the screen like possessed winged creatures diving upon confused residents in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963), I sometimes gave up trying to follow the story.


At one point, Langdon says, “This is the first McDonald’s restaurant that opened in Italy, and on its men’s room wall, Ernest Hemingway predicted that Marlon Brando would refuse to attend the 1973 Academy Awards.”


Alright, that might not be correct.  Langdon may have said that a guy named Donald believes that humming birds would deliver a human-killing virus across the globe.  Well, I am not sure about that either, so please do not quote me.


You can quote me, however, that the movie is a confusing mess with more moving parts than Santa’s toy factory a week before Christmas.   Some villains might not be villains, and some protagonists may not be protagonists.   Even Langdon is regarded as a villain for a short while, but – due to his head injury – he, instead, becomes entangled in unhealthy amounts of screen time attempting to remember the past few days.  For “good” measure, Howard provides a steady stream of incoherent flashbacks from Langdon’s immediate past.


At least the script gives Langdon a love interest with the World Health Organization’s Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) entering the picture, but a random Saturday trip to the nearby hardware store offers more excitement than their onscreen chemistry.  


I have not read Brown’s “Inferno”, so I do not know the chemistry of moving from novel to film, but one might be better served by stopping in a bookstore and picking up the book instead of watching the movie.


Hey, at least one could put down the book, digest the contents of Chapter X, and say, “Wow.  Now, let me take a minute and examine Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell.”  


Well, that map somewhat resembles my “Inferno” movie experience.   

(1.5/4 stars)