Thursday, May 14, 2009

ANGELS & DEMONS: Howard's Redemption

ANGELS & DEMONS (mystery thriller)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Pasquesi and Cosimo Fusco
Director: Ron Howard
Time: 140 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Redemption. For me, Angels & Demons is all about redemption. Ron Howard's redemption. After the dismal outing that was The Da Vinci Code, Howard seems to have learnt from his mistakes and atoned for his sins with this 'sequel'.

Angels & Demons (which is actually based on Dan Brown's second book published in 2000 while The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003) is a 'leaner' and more engaging movie. What's more, Tom Hanks has discarded that ridiculous bouffant hairstyle which, many believed, must have helped to sink the Da Vinci Code.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is interrupted from his regular swim by a Vatican inspector (Piefrancesco Favino) with news that Vatican City is under siege and that his help is needed to unravel some mysteries.

The incumbent Pope has mysteriously died and four cardinals, who are the most likely papal candidates, have been kidnapped, reportedly by an ancient, pro-science sect known as the Illuminati. The cardinals are marked to die at hourly intervals and an anti-matter bomb, stolen from a Swiss lab is set to destroy the Vatican at midnight. And to make matters more sweaty, a conclave is meeting behind locked doors to elect a new pontiff, and they seem to be having problems making their decision.

At the Vatican, Langdon teams up with anti-matter scientist Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) to find the cardinals - and the bomb.

HITS & MISSES: Angels & Demons is basically a hostage film and a murder mystery. For the most part of the movie, we are offered the 'usual' suspects and the customary red herrings. There is Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), the head of the Swiss Guard, who resents Langdon poking around his domain; there is the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the temporary head of Vatican City, who may have something to hide; or is it the ambitious-looking Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who is the mastermind?

Also, the first half of the movie feels like a frantic tour of the churches of Rome as we follow Langdon around from one chapel to another - and to the reverred Vatican Archives and through secret passages. Unlike in the earlier movie, Langdon's job and motives are clearer and easier to understand. Also, director Howard keeps the pace fast, the tension taut and the bodies piling up. Well, you can't go wrong on these counts.

Howard has been criticised for the lack of sexual chemistry between Hanks and his co-star Audrey Tatou in The Da Vinci Code (read the review here). Here, he simply refuses to suggest any kind of romance between Langdon and Vetra. For the two, it is strictly business - and this helps to keep the plot in focus.

THE LOWDOWN: Forget the religious stuff. Angels & Demons Equals a Potboiler of a Thriller!


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