Ten years ago, the movie “The Da Vinci Code” (based on the 2003 best-selling novel by Dan Brown) generated alarm amongst religious conservatives, some of whom called for its boycott. Despite the uproar (or maybe partially due to it), the film was a success and was followed in 2009 by a screen adaptation of Brown’s “Angels and Demons.” Now “Inferno,” a third chapter in the adventures of symbology professor Robert Langdon, has just released. All three films in the series have been directed by Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks as Langdon.
This time Langdon awakens in a Florence, Italy hospital room, suffering from amnesia. As he tries to make sense of his surroundings and cope with flashes of nightmare images, Langdon is cared for by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). The arrival of an armed woman who appears intent on assassinating Langdon results in Brooks and Langdon fleeing the hospital. A pointer which projects an altered image of Botticelli’s painting of Dante’s vision of hell is the only clue Langdon and Brooks have to work with as they try to discover why Langdon is being targeted and how this relates to the suicide of American billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster).
“Inferno” follows Langdon and Brooks through streets, museums and houses of worship in Florence, Venice, and Istanbul. The scenery is beautifully captured by cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s camera. Venice gets a disappointingly short visit but the fast-cut editing overseen by Tom Elkins and Dan Hanley keeps the action moving. Their editing is used to especially good effect in shots detailing Langdon’s confusion during his amnesia. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack enhances the film’s energized pace, enforcing the suspense with an ominous tone and fast tempo.
In his third adventure as Langdon, Hanks appears very comfortable in his character’s skin. He brings the right balance of seriousness and approachability to the professor. Occasionally Hanks also gets to exhibit touches of wry humor which aid in relieving some of the plot’s unrelenting action tension.
As his partner in the quest to discover what Langdon is embroiled in, Jones’ Brooks is very much his equal. Her intelligence and resourcefulness match his capabilities. Her athleticism also comes in handy. But, in a side note, the believability of the action sequences involving Jones and Sidse Babett Knudsen (as World Health Organization director Sinskey) was greatly diminished by Costume Designer Julian Day placing both actresses in heels.
Another noteworthy performance comes from Irrfan Khan’s as Mr. Sims, the head of a shadowy organization that has ties to the billionaire who committed suicide. Khan projects a chilling practicality. His single-minded ruthlessness would fit perfectly in a scene in a James Bond film.
Audience members who’ve read Brown’s “Inferno” novel are in for a few surprises in the last third of Howard’s film. David Koepp’s adaptation (he also worked on “Angels and Demons”) veers onto a different course both in its portrayal of some of the characters and in its unfolding of the drama in the final scenes. Without revealing any plot points, it’s safe to say the dead body count is much higher. While this increases the action aspect of the film, it doesn’t improve the plot.
With the film’s overall emphasis on “action,” the development of relationships between the characters becomes a casualty. The ever-moving pace, written by Koepp and accepted by director Howard, doesn’t allow much time to know the characters. Ironically, suicidal billionaire Zobrist, while only seen in flashbacks or videos, receives a stronger character reveal than some other players.
Lessened also is the “treasure hunt” aspect of Brown’s novels. This feature has always increased the adventure portion of the Langdon films, adding to the suspense and intrigue. Its diminished presence this time is a disappointment.
Fans of Brown’s books will have to decide for themselves if the liberties taken with the author’s original plot add to the story or detract from it. Either way, it’s certain audience members will be in for a fast-paced quest with Professor Langdon.