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By Daniel Lammin
10th October 2016

The novels of Dan Brown are a special kind of novel. I don't mean "special" in that they're good, but their mix of historical facts, art history and popcorn thriller storylines have been tapping into the popular consciousness since the blockbuster success of his novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’. So far, two of his novels around the adventures of cryptologist Robert Langdon have been translated into films (with varying success), and now a third has made it to the screen with pretty much the same talent intact. Indeed, ‘Inferno’ has all the hallmarks that make Brown’s stories, while utterly disposable, also totally gripping - a trail of clues hidden in objects from history and a race against the clock to avert a catastrophe. But even with expectations tempered, does ‘Inferno’ sit well next to its predecessors?

Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up confused and hallucinating in a hotel room, a serious gunshot wound on his forehead. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) gives him the little information she has before the two of them are on the run from countless pursuers, some governmental and some hostile. Piecing together what he knows from his fractured memory, Langdon realises he is caught up in search for a deadly pathogen created by crazed millionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Forster) to lower the world’s population dramatically, and the only way to find it in time before it's released may be hidden in the writings of Dante.


‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2006) may have been a handsome yet unnecessarily serious affair, but director Ron Howard hit the right balance of thriller, melodrama and good-hearted fun with the second film ‘Angels and Demons’ (2009), learning from the mistakes of the first. With ‘Inferno’, he shakes the form up again, aiming for an aesthetic that’s more frenetic, kinetic and immediate. To begin with, it’s an interesting choice, the crazy editing and erratic sound design recreating Langdon’s confusion, but this style permeates throughout the entire film and ultimately is its undoing. There’s less action, less historical facts and less art in ‘Inferno’ than the previous films, with Howard and screenwriter David Koepp instead resting on human relationships, but Brown’s characters and narratives just aren’t strong enough to support anything of any depth. It’s the action, the history and the art that makes these films so much fun, and without them, ‘Inferno’ ends up feeling surprisingly ponderous. The frenetic cinematography also denies us the eye candy of the stunning European locations, and for some bizarre reason, composer Hans Zimmer has foregone the rich orchestras and blaring choirs that made the scores to the first two films so wonderful (and amongst his best work of the last 15 years), and has gone for something more obnoxious and electronic, which again just seems inadequate.

Robert Langdon’s adventures are like an extra-nerdy, less-swashbuckling version of Indiana Jones, but without the nerdy stuff and the bombast, there's nothing to hide the disposable quality of Brown’s work. Perhaps the biggest disappointment though is that this is Ron Howard’s weakest work in years, his directorial vision lacking even more clarity than it did in ‘In The Heart of the Sea’ (2015). The story ‘Inferno' is telling doesn’t have to be good, but it’s a problem when the filmmaking itself isn’t much better, something neither previous film really suffered from.

Without the nerdiness and the bombast, there's nothing to hide the disposable quality of Brown’s work.

The cast are all as dependable as you would expect, Hanks now having Langdon down pretty well and Felicity Jones making do with what she has. The cast also includes Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen, but the problem is that no one seems to be having that much fun. That was the problem with ‘The Da Vinci Code’, something that was addressed wonderfully in ‘Angels and Demons’, but now we’ve just gone back to ultra-serious mode, and it’s hard for the audience to enjoy themselves when no one is giving us permission to. A real treat though is Irrfan Khan as Harry Sims, a security contractor with an eccentric (and dangerous) sense of humour, who injects the film with something more unusual and exciting. His scenes, as few as they are, often end up being the highlights of the film.

I’m going to be honest - I bloody loved the first two films, even for all their faults. I’m a sucker for history and art, and I love a good dumb adventure thriller to get caught up in, especially when they’re handsomely made. ‘Inferno’ offers so little of that, and as such ends up being another disappointment in the long line of disappointments we’ve had from Hollywood blockbusters this year. Ron Howard has tried to inject something new into the franchise, but has consequently taken away everything that made it entertaining in the first place. Dan Brown may not be a great writer, but his stories sparkle with swiftness, intrigue and the best pub trivia facts Wikipedia can offer. There’s just not enough in ‘Inferno’ to make you want to keep following its trail.

RELEASE DATE: 13/10/2016
RUN TIME: 02h 13m
CAST: Tom Hanks
Felicity Jones
Irrfan Khan
Omar Sy
Sidse Babett Knudsen
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
WRITER: David Koepp
Brian Grazer
Michael De Luca
Andrea Giannetti
SCORE: Hans Zimmer
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