‘Inferno’ Wastes Handsome Production Values on a Nonsensical Story

The production tries everything it can to make the movie seem propulsive, even when the story refuses all forward movement.

Inferno begins with world-renowned symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) waking up in a hospital in Florence with a head wound. He doesn't know how he got there, the professor apparently suffering from a mild case of retrograde amnesia. Suddenly, his room is attacked. He escapes with the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who takes him to her apartment. From there, she helps Langdon try to figure out what exactly happened. He follows a set of clues, all relating to Dante's Inferno, that appears to lead to the location of a virus that could spell disaster for all of the humanity.

This is the third film adapted from Dan Brown's novels. It is, just like the previous two, a story of a professor going from one famous attraction to the next, trying to glean vague clues from artifacts and artwork while spouting random bits of trivia. If one is already a fan of the novel, one will likely find this film a perfectly competent adaptation of the work. It is thoroughly professional production featuring a great international cast. If one is not into Dan Brown's particular brand of storytelling, this film will do nothing to convince you.

The story is preposterous. Even given all the context of Dan Brown's symbological world of extravagant, professorial mysteries, this plot functions on way too much clunky contrivance. The best thing about it is the initial disorientation, with the main character missing the last forty-eight hours of his life, and not really knowing what he's supposed to be doing or whom he's supposed to trust. But as the film goes on, and more and more answers are revealed, it all just seems needlessly complicated. As the world fills in, the plot loses all immediacy as it slows down to explain the various elements at play.

There are just too many interests vying for position in this story. And none of them seem particularly competent. Langdon manages to evade them not because he is especially talented, but because everyone keeps screwing up. This gets even sillier when the big twists are deployed. The big plans in place just don't make any sense. It feels like all the players are actively trying to make things harder for themselves. Meanwhile, Langdon is openly roaming the halls of a museum, firing off random bits of art history, proving his intellectual mettle against invisible antagonists that aren't really doing anything to threaten him.

This is the third time Ron Howard has sat behind the camera for a Dan Brown adaptation. One certainly can't fault the production of this movie. Howard even experiments a bit, going edgy in his depiction of Langdon's state of mental distress. The production tries everything it can to make the movie seem propulsive, even when the story refuses all forward movement. Tom Hanks also reprises the Robert Langdon role. He is still thoroughly watchable, though one can sense that the actor is stifled in this character. Felicity Jones is a compelling presence on screen, but she can't quite handle where the story takes her character. Or she just gives up.

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Inferno is a handsome production that at times might convince you that the story is better than it is. If one doesn't get into the nitty-gritty of how this story works, one can be reasonably distracted by the exotic locales and the professional presentation of the almost thrilling illogic. But there is a proper context for things like that. This movie is probably best enjoyed on a television screen idly playing in the background while you're doing something else. In the isolation of the cinema, the nonsense is too evident to be fully ignored.

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Movie Info

Inferno
Mystery | Thriller

Articles

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