Inferno (2016) by Ron Howard: Langdon is back in Hell

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Inferno, Movie Poster, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan
Inferno (2016) By Ron Howard
When I first read The Da Vinci Code, I was not awed. Coming from an archaeologist’s family, the book opened no new vistas for me. Even the pivot of the story – Da Vinci’s masterpiece and the hidden clues, including Mary Magdalene’s figure among the disciples, was a well-known surmise. I actually liked the style of writing. I was not seasoned to English literature, twelve years ago. Today, the screwed up style is evident. Someone actually remarked that this is probably the only novel beginning with the word renowned. Dan Brown’s is marked by such hollow excess. Louvre’s curator must be renowned. That needs not be emphasized. Such emphases make the work imprudently childish. But, the world seems to prefer childish styles of writing.
Ron Howard’s adaptation was not even childish. It was horrible, to say the least. It was worse than garbage, more scandalous than the stinking sanitary napkin in the ex-lover’s wardrobe. Angels & Demons – both the book and the film (in their respective ways) – was not better. Dan Brown stank. But, his were the best sellers.
Inferno - Book Cover
I read his latest magnum opus when it was published, in 2013. I do not write better than him. But, I have an excuse. English is not really my language from womb. He has no such excuse to make.

Dante’s Divine Comedy was my text, in the university. In this, Inferno was the special point of interest. The western idea of hell, and especially in the modern Islamic ideoverses, was expressed through Dante, in a cosy manner. In time, many cultures would draw shamelessly from Dante’s. For example, Freud’s tripartite theory of mind was almost a renaming for Purgatario, Inferno and Paradiso. The modern political system is sketched in its developmental stages, through this journey. I am definitely not a Dante scholar. But, seeing its mammoth reach, I wish I gave more time to Italian language, medieval and early Renaissance Studies, during my uni days.

Dan Brown is hopeless. So is Ron Howard. Then, what pushed me to go and watch the current Tom Hanks starrer? This review is about that.
Nine Layers of Hell by Botticelli, Inferno, Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks
Nine Layers of Hell by Botticelli used as a plot point in the film
I wanted to see how a more mature Howard handles a woolly plot in 2016.

Exactly like Brown’s, the first stylistic mistake in the film was to make Dr Sienna Brookes familiar with Langdon and his works. And they used tele! Who on earth, except for a child, wants to make it guaranteedly hinted that Brookes is playing a scripted role?

The peculiarly decked up Vayentha (played by Ana Ularu) gives this a high-metal sheen. A private killer, in the garb of a marshall, is too much to appear like that.

However, the escape from hospital was a scene that I liked. What happens afterwards, in Sienna Brooks’ apartment, looks fake. Everything from Langdon surreptitiously checking his mails on her laptop – the cursory glances, the avoidance of wide lens. The Director, in a way, tells us that Sienna is Zobrist’s (the villain) girlfriend, when she offers apparel to the Dr just after he finishes seeing Zobrist on the laptop.

Dan Brown and Ron Howard talk about Inferno

If all these mean that Ron Howard is playing with the audience, one must note that the play is amateur. The other alternative is that Howard’s target audience is juvenile. I am afraid that the latter seems to be the case.

Irrfan Khan as the Provost is an excellent choice, although the physical descriptions (between the book and the film) completely mismatch. Khan is brilliant, because his mannerism of aloofness perfectly matches the role.

As for Tom Hanks, he is either the Big or Forrest Gump. Anything else is a forceful affair, most of the time. Hanks is a reason these films did not cross the infantile mark. Yet, Howard kept on casting Hanks for this role. It is not mandatory not to change the star in a series. But, Howard would not. That says something about Howard. (Well, I guess I am trying to wallow in the writing style of Dan Brown!)

Brown and Howard on the plot

The scene of Inferno, that keeps coming back in the hallucination of our beloved Doctor, is just okay. Dante’s description is of another paradigm. It is more eerie than Camus’ Plague. Elsewhere, Howard has played stupidly with Dante, the daze and Giorgio Vassari. Neither Dan Brown nor Howard understands signs and semiotics.

Despite the quick parallel - Langdon thrown to hell by a woman, and brought to light by another only to find out he is in a deeper hell - the film fails to work as a visual metonymy. Despite Howard's claim, Tom Hanks as Langdon looks more a doted victim than a powerful guide through symbols.

Cerca Trova

A key-phrase in the film that haunts Langdon and his mysterious (well, not so mysterious in the film) friend, Dr Sienna Brooks throughout the story. 

Seek and Find. The same phrase is seen in Giorgio Vassari's painting of a battle scene. Scholars think that this may be connected to an important lost work of Leonardo's. It is quite probable that multiple artworks were hidden behind famous wooden-paneled paintings, frames or apparent frescos in some public buildings on Florence, because of political or religious reasons.

Howard builds up the chase scene where Langdon and Brooks escape to the roof of the palazzo, opening such a painting frame as door.

Yet, the build up did not push adrenaline to blood.

Harry Potter (the books) is much better in comparison.

One good thing about the book and the film, as in the predecessors in this series, is the expanse of geography (and it is cultural geography) that these works contain. Man loves to travel. These juvenile works capitalize on that.

But, there is no harm in that callowness. There is harm only when one takes it seriously.

The Culturally Rich Locations

Go and watch the film if you have nothing much to do on a long weekend. Ron Howard proves once again that he can fail miserably!

P.S. The film is about a philanthropist (like Mark Zukerberg (his mentor Steve Jobs was better)) who wants to kill half of the population of the world to save humanity from overpopulation.

Rating : 3.5/10

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