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angels and demons

Angels & Demons
Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Ricardo Barberini & Richard Tara

May 18, 2009


Dan Brown wrote Angels and Demons long before he penned his most successful novel, the Da Vinci Code.  If you have read the books in reverse order like many people who first read Da Vinci Code after seeing the movie and then read the first book about Robert Langdon you may wonder how the story in this movie will relate to the Da Vinci Code movie.  Angels and Demons stands as a great novel by itself. It is well written and very absorbing.  Screen writers and the director Ron Howard have managed to modify the story to suggest that it happened after the DaVinci Code.

The story opens with the death of the Pope and the gathering of the cardinals from around the world to elect a new Pope.  As is the custom of the Vatican, while the cardinals are meeting to elect a new Pope, the late Pope’s chamberlain known as Camerlengo in Italian is nominally in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city state of Vatican. 

The story also introduces Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) who is a scientist at CERN in Switzerland developing vials of Anti Matter to help the world energy production. Incidentally, CERN is actually an international scientific organization which dabbles in many things.  They are the people who created the Web language which allows you to send and read emails and read this and other information on the Internet.

As soon as the Anti Matter is created, an intruder kills Vittoria’s coworker and steals a vial of the dangerous matter.  

Back in Rome, four of the cardinals who are considered the most likely candidates to become the new Pope are kidnapped.  These odds-on favorite cardinals are known as the preferratti. A message from a shadowy underground Anti-Catholic organization known as the Illuminati claims responsibility and warns the Vatican that the four kidnapped cardinals will be killed one by one and that the vial of Anti Matter which has been placed inside the Vatican will be set off to destroy the Vatican and most of Rome if the Vatican does not cancel the election of a new Pope and evacuate the unholy grounds.  The cardinals ignore the threat and go on with their meeting.

The Vatican sends for Robert Langdon who as a symbologist can perhaps decipher Illuminati’s cryptic message.  Vittoria also arrives in Rome to be on hand to disarm the vial and take it back to Switzerland; that is if they can find it before it explodes and takes them and the whole city with it.  The Camerlengo allows Langdon access to the Vatican archives, something that he had been refused for over ten years, to review the secret Galileo documents that may help reveal where the cardinals are kept captive.  The Vatican police chief Inspector Olivetti (Pierfranceso Favino) and Commander Richter of the Swiss Guard are assigned to help him in his quest.

The Illuminati start killing the captive cardinals one by one at the appointed hours as threatened in their message. Langdon and Inspector Olivetti finally figure out where the Cardinals will be killed but are always one step behind the assassin. The first cardinal is killed in the basement of a church. Each cardinal is branded with one of four elements of life before being killed.  The first cardinal is branded with the word “Earth” across his chest.  The other are branded with Air, Fire and Water before being killed.  The second Cardinal is stabbed to death in Saint Peter’s square and the third one is burnt alive.  Langdon manages to save the last cardinal from drowning.  They find the hideout of the assassin, but are too late and he gets away only to be blown up by his masters as he is getting into his car.

Based on the symbols that Langdon and Vittoria discover in the hideout, they feel that the Camerlengo will be the next target of the assassins. Through a secret passageway they return to the Vatican and discover the Camerlengo on the floor with an upside down Papal insignia branded on his chest and Commander Richter with his gun drawn standing next to his writhing body.  The police shoot Commander Richter and save the Camerlengo. Having figured out that the vial of Anti Matter is in the caves beneath the Vatican they race down there to change its battery and take it back to Switzerland only to discover that there may not be enough time for them to do so.  The Camerlengo, who had been a helicopter pilot for the Vatican earlier in his career, grabs the vial and takes off in the rescue helicopter which is parked outside the Vatican.  He soars as high as he can and parachutes out moments before the vial explodes.  The cardinals faced with this heroic act are inclined to elect him as the new Pope.

However, Langdon and Vittoria find video evidence that Commander Richter was in fact innocent and it was the Camerlengo who had been behind all those murders starting with poisoning the Pope and plotting all along to become the new Pope since he had felt the Vatican had become corrupted and wanted to purify the Catholic religion.  Faced with the evidence, the Camerlengo commits suicide by burning himself alive.  The last of the four kidnapped cardinals to survive is declared the new Pope and Langdon and Vittoria go back to their normal lives. That is until the next disaster befalls the Catholic Church.

Ricardo Barberini~

If you have read the book, you will agree that the script writers have generally followed the story with some exceptions.  In the book, all the kidnapped cardinals die and Robert and Vittoria have a hot liaison.  In the movie, their relationship is very clinical.

Ron Howard, has become a darling of Hollywood moguls for making hollow fantasy movies.  He does not have the inner fire of great directors such as Elia Kazan or the genius of an Alfred Hitchcock or a William Wyler.   During his years at Hollywood, he has become a master of mechanically produced films.  Find the right book, get some famous actor, hire a good special effects company and a few good stunts men, do some location shooting and plenty of advertising. The beef, so to speak, is missing.  Angels and Demons is a lukewarm movie made on a big budget with all the above elements.  Unfortunately, Ron has not been able to bring out the best in Tom Hanks. Throughout the movie, Tom Hanks walks around with practically the same bemused expression on his face.   Missing out are the emotions that he displayed so vividly in movies such as Philadelphia, Cast Away and Forest Gump.   The only good acting in this movie was by the veteran character actor Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Straus and Pierfrancesco Favino as Inspector Olivetti.  A for Ayelet Zurer, she did not even show one spark of life.  For all practical purposes, a man could have played Vittoria’s role with more feeling than she did.   The movie was entertaining, the special effects were really good but after waiting such a long time with all the hoopla surrounding its release, I found the movie very disappointing.  I will give it starstar thumbs down

Richard Tara~

I disagree with Ricardo in this case.  It is true that the script did not follow the book but most movies do not.  It is not always possible to shrink a big novel into a two hour movie. 

I think that as Ron Howard has made more movies, he has been learning the rote.  He is getting much better at it. It is not always easy to direct a world class actor such as Tom Hanks, nice as he is, with ease.  It took a John Ford to tame John Wayne down and make him a great star.  Before that, John Wayne was a B movie actor with a great ego.  I think the script writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have produced a very entertaining story.  It was mostly shot on location which added to its significance.   Considering the fact that the crew was not allowed to film inside the Vatican, they did a wonderful job of duplicating the interior scenes. 

I enjoyed Aylet Zurer’s performance as Vittoria.  Since the love interest was deleted from the movie version, she had to play her role as a gender blind assistant to Tom Hanks and she managed that role perfectly. Pierfrancesco Favino is an award wining Italian actor and we hope to see him in more Hollywood movies.

Salvatore Totino was the lead Cinematographer in this movie and he did an excellent job, specially considering that he had to confine himself to the difficulty of filming in Rome with its myriad of scooters, bicycles and cars.

I liked the movie. I will give it starstarstar thumbs up

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