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May 20, 2009 > Movie Review: Angels and Demons - Fast-paced, may leave some breathless and puzzled

Movie Review: Angels and Demons - Fast-paced, may leave some breathless and puzzled

By Joe Samagond

I don't think I am going out on a limb if I say that Angels and Demons (2009) will be appreciated more by those who have read Dan Brown's book of the same name. I have enjoyed the book and liked the movie, even though the movie script departs from the book in some key areas.

This historical religious action thriller is set in Rome. A popular and progressive pope has just died. Cardinals have been summoned to the Vatican to elect his successor. However a conspiracy unfolds driven by the Illuminati. An organization long thought extinct they were a secret brotherhood --the "enlightened ones" - a cult of early scientists who had vowed revenge against the Vatican for crimes against scientists like Galileo. Four of the leading candidates to assume the papal throne, the Preferiti, have been kidnapped. They will be executed in succession at 8, 9, 10 and 11 p.m., after which an anti-matter vial runs out of juice at midnight and will wipe out most of Rome upon explosion. This anti-matter is a product of some clever scientists at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). The brain behind the experiment is murdered and one of his three canisters holding this incendiary material was stolen to play the role of this ticking bomb.

Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned from Cambridge, MA (Harvard University) by an emissary from the Vatican to Rome to help unravel the plot. There he teams up with the beautiful and brilliant Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) from CERN (partner of the murdered scientist). Together, (along with a slew of Swiss Army Guards and Vatican Police) they retrace the steps of the so-called "Path of Illumination," an ancient and elaborate process once used by the Illuminati as a means of induction of new members. Using his extensive knowledge of religious and occult history, Langdon leads the effort to uncover clues that will solve the mystery of the disappearance of the Preferiti and the location of the anti-matter canister. Can he do it time before the massive fireball occurs?

Meanwhile, there is intrigue within the Vatican and lots of red herrings among all the red hats. The young Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the adopted son of the late pontiff, joins the professor's desperate quest, as does the commander (Stellan Skarsgard) of the pope's protectors, the Swiss Guard. Inside the conclave, Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), in charge of the election, is less than enamored by the Camerlengo's repeated attempts to break from tradition.

Ron Howard's (he will always be "Opie" of the Andy Griffith show to me!) direction combines the visual charm of a hectic tourist tour of Rome while telling a fairly complex story. Meanwhile, Hanks perseveres with his minimalist mode, his face switching from wry smirk to worried squint. All of this happens at breakneck speed, with little subtlety, but with fabulous production values. The interiors of the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, churches, tombs and crypts are rendered dramatically as is St. Peter's square and all the rituals of the Vatican church. With much of the story set in and around Vatican City, Howard has a rich canvas, used to great effect by production designer Allan Cameron.

Even with the abridged movie version of the story, the movie is long (138 minutes) and has a complex story to tell. The action and the effects come so fast and furiously, if you turn away for a second you may miss an important clue, or even a murder. The film is compelling and suspenseful, though not very smooth especially at the end where closure is hastily delivered, a departure from the book story line. "Angels and Demons" is at its most convincing exploring the tension between Church and Science. The film by no means tilts the conflict one way or the other. The professor is not religious, indeed seems agnostic, but the church is not portrayed as anti-science either. The message is one of harmony.

Going back to my opening, viewer response will vary with your familiarity with the storyline. I recommend that if you have not read the book, you should at least browse through a synopsis of this book in some form prior to watching the movie, to fully appreciate it.

Rated: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.
Runtime: 2 hours and 18 minutes

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