14 October 2016

Film Review - Inferno (2016)

Movie adaptations of Dan Brown’s work have more or less echoed the commercial and critical trajectory of the novels, raking in the cash while incurring the wrath of critics. The tawdry airport departure lounge paperbacks have done pretty decent business but Brown remains something of a pariah in the world of literature. Lest we forget Stewart Lee’s “famous man/red cup” bit.

It’s not surprising that Ron Howard has been the individual to take on the task of adapting Brown for the cinema. Howard is arguably the byword for easy-watching, populist cinema. Not likely to be described as a “visionary”, Howard is nevertheless a steady hand at the tiller, a competent director with the ability to produce movies with widespread appeal; in many respects the perfect director for Brown’s work.

Inferno brings back the similarly reliable Tom Hanks in the central role of Robert Langdon, the affable professor of iconography and cryptology. In this third movie in the series, Langdon finds himself awakening in a Florence hospital bed with no memory of the previous two days. A clue left in his clothes puts him on the trail of recently-deceased billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a pessimist mogul who bleakly predicts the end of the human race due to over- population of the planet. Joining the dots (as he is wont to do), Langdon uncovers a plot to cull the world’s population with a biological weapon.

Kicking off at full pelt and never really relenting in its pace until its finish, Inferno manages to recreate some of the sense of urgency that Brown, for all his faults, adeptly forces into his source material. It’s a hectic and urgent affair that breezes across the screen like a celluloid version of the board game Mousetrap, with pressing dilemmas and riddles breeding more pressing dilemmas and riddles. It’s clanking and modular, as if Hanks has literally turned the game’s crank to force a small metal ball to roll down a tube to clatter into a boot that kicks a bloke who dives into a bucket to force the trap to descend on the little plastic mouse (or in this case international conspiracy).

The problem is none of it stands up to any sort of narrative scrutiny. It’s a haphazard mixture of niche artistic revelations and massively unbelievable plot twists that make you feel as if important parts of the game (or film) are missing. So you turn the crank, but the ball never moves. And you flick the ball yourself, but it misses the boot. So you prod the little diving bloke yourself but the trap gets stuck. So you do it yourself. And miss the mouse anyway.

★★| Chris Banks

Mystery, Thriller | USA, 2016 | 12A | Sony Pictures Releasing | 14th October 2016 (UK) | Dir.Ron Howard | Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen

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