The Popcorn Reel

Angels And Demons

Tom Hanks returns as Professor Robert Langdon in Ron Howard's film "Angels & Demons", with a new character, Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra, played by
Ayelet Zurer, in Dan Brown's prequel book to "The Da Vinci Code".  (Photo: Zade Rosenthal/Sony Pictures)

It's Spectacular! It's Sacred! It's Murder, Madness And Mayhem In The Vatican Once Again
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Friday, May 15, 2009

After the intimacy and tightly-helmed "Frost/Nixon" of last December comes film director Ron Howard's return to large, open spaces and wider camera angles in "Angels & Demons", based on the same-titled prequel book by Dan Brown, who authored "The Da Vinci Code".  Mr. Howard's film adaptation of the "Da Vinci" book reaped millions of dollars worldwide in 2006, and his latest film, which opened in the U.S. and Canada today, will do the same largely because it is more propulsive and dynamic a thriller than "The Da Vinci Code" was, and at roughly two hours and 20 minutes, slightly shorter. 

Tom Hanks returns as the intrepid, unrelenting Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon, stumbling upon a conspiracy of an ancient brotherhood known as the Illuminati that leads to the imminent murders of four Cardinals in and around the Vatican in Rome, where apparently no esteemed member of the Catholic Church is safe.  Mr. Howard sticks to a race-against-time timeline, creating a tighter, leaner film (written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman) in this second go-round, though some more editing by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill would have sufficed for the film's final fifteen minutes which play as a coda of sorts to the film's previous two-plus hours. 

Like its cinematic predecessor, "Angels & Demons" boasts a strong international cast with Mr. Hanks headlining as the American trapped in shadowy intrigue, mystery and murder at the epicenter of Papal sanctity.  Stellan Skarsgård, one of Sweden's finest acting talents, plays a shady Commander tied to the Vatican, and Israel's Ayelet Zurer is shrewd as Vittoria Vetra, a top Italian scientist who is the key to Langdon's inquiries.  There's Pierfrancesco Favini of Italy (last seen stateside in Spike Lee's "Miracle At St. Anna" in 2008), "Deception"'s Ewan McGregor of Scotland as Carmalengo Patrick McKenna, and Germany's Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Strauss.  Mr. Mueller-Stahl, seen earlier this year in "The International", is a largely muted presence yet stately and effective, speaking softly and possessing a look that will strike fear in the heart of one character before all the proceedings are said and done.

"Angels & Demons" has some unfortunately weak dialogue at times such as, "are you going to just stand there and discuss it amongst yourselves for 14 minutes?", or words to that effect by Mr. Hanks' Langdon to a duo of Italian police officers as he's trying to get them to prevent the killing of one of the Cardinals targeted for murder.  Other than that and one or two other lines there's a better distilling of information, situational bearing and narrative cohesion related to the specific elements of the story, which are marked by tension and several disturbing images, some of which are powerful, others which feel exploitative or gratuitous.  As in many films including the recent "State Of Play", Mr. Howard's film sports a lone trouble-making gunman.  Don't filmmakers understand that conspiracies by their very legal definition involve at least two people?  (Actually it turns out that Mr. Howard understands this.) 

The two-sided coin that is "Angels & Demons" contains red herrings, predictable scenarios and redundant scenes on one side and rich hues and indelible cinematography by Salvatore Totino, brooding music score by Hans Zimmer and distinctive production design by Allan Cameron on the other.  As in "Da Vinci", this new film takes place mostly at night, and while not especially impressive represents a significant and admirable improvement over Mr. Howard's effort three years ago.  When Mr. Brown's third book "The Lost Symbol" is published on September 15 in the U.S., the countdown to Mr. Howard's third go-round on the big screen will begin.  Mr. Hanks will be there as Professor Langdon in what will be his fifth feature film collaboration with Mr. Howard.  Stay tuned.

With: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi, Cosimo Fusco, Victor Alfieri, Marco Fiorini, Howard Mungo, Franklin Amobi, Curt Lowens, Bob Yerkes and Rance Howard.

"Angels & Demons" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.  The film's running time is two hours and 18 minutes.


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