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Angels and Demons- Rating: A-

Submitted by on May 25, 2009 – 1:38 PMNo Comment
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Physicist Vittoria Vetra, played by Ayelet Zuer (Munich, Vantage Point) and Father Silvano Bentivoglio (Carmen Argenziano—CSI Miami, House, Stargate SG1) finally achieve the creation of antimatter, one container of the precious and very volatile substance is stolen by terrorists. At the same time, the current Pope has died and the papal conclave is about to choose his successor from four preferitti, four cardinals in line for the papacy. Before this can begin, the terrorists kidnap the preferitti and threaten to execute one each hour, leading up to midnight when they will blow up the Vatican. Thus begins the latest Dan Brown-based film, Angels and Demons.

angels-demons2Even though Harvard symbologist Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) still is on rocky ground with the Catholic Church, he is called to decipher where each of the preferitti is and where the stolen container of antimatter is located and help Vittoria stabilize the volatile substance. Landon’s specialized expertise with the secret brotherhood of The Illuminati doesn’t endear him to the Vatican and neither  does any of the three law enforcement agencies involved think much of his abilities. When Langdon deciphers the location of one of the kidnapped cardinals, he is given a lesson in the bureaucratic jurisdictional web the Vatican in Rome presents. He has to deal with the Roman police when he leaves Vatican City, contend with the Vatican police around the Vatican, and the Swiss Guard when he’s in the heart of the papal quarters consulting with the Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, played by Ewan McGregor, who has control of the Vatican until a new Pope is chosen.

Not only is there the mystery of unlocking the clues the Illuminati present, but there is a tangled web of deceit and lies as it becomes clear that the Pope may have been murdered, that there may be some very greedy jockeying for the papacy, and that there may be Illuminati infiltrating the Vatican. There are high sped chases, shocking murders, and one red herring after another.

The script, based on another Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) bestseller, was written by David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Jurassic Park, Lost World: Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds) and Akiva Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code, I Am Legend, Practical Magic, I Robot, and Lost in Space).  It is tight without losing anything in the unfolding of the drama.

Ron Howard returns to Dan Brown’s work after a foray into politics and talk shows with his very serious Frost/Nixon.  Howard’s attention to detail and classic visual strength make this film work. The camera work says much before a word of dialogue is uttered. And sometimes, there is the sheer absurdity of life that intervenes, as in one life-threatening scene in the Vatican Archives that could have been botched in another director’s hands. What comes across is a moment of desperation that shows Langdon’s humanity and the vagaries of fate.

Though we have come to expect flawless performances from Tom Hanks, and he didn’t disappoint, I was most impressed with some of the supporting roles. I was very impressed with Ewan McGregor’s rendering of the idealistic, young Camerlengo Patrick McKenna. I was surprised to find him in this role because it certainly is a far cry from his more heroic roles in Star Wars and Black Hawk Down, and even farther removed from his role in Emma.  The complex Camerlengo became more as developed him.

Nikolaj Lie Kaas’s terrorist was logically creepy. A fresh face, seen only on a lot of Danish TV and films, he brought unexpectedness to this role, surprising moviegoers with his character.

I was also drawn into Cardinal Strauss’ humanity as it was portrayed by Armin Mueller-Stahl. A familiar face, seen in The Thirteenth Floor and TV’s West Wing and X-Files, he was a natural choice for an aging cardinal, but Mueller-Stahl gave him depth.

But, the two police officers at the Vatican were polar opposites as far as supporting the quest that Langdon and Vittoria were on.  Commander Ricter of the Swiss Guards was a patent disbeliver in Langdon’s abilities. His contempt was subtly delivered by Stellan Skarsgard (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Exorcist: The Beginning, and lots of international films), And then there was Pierfrancesco Favino’s Inspector Olivetti, who believed that Langdon could help. Favino is always intriguing to watch, even in smaller roles. I enjoyed his portrayal of the resistance leader in Miracle at St. Anna was gritty and well done.

Bravo once more to the Da Vinci team for pulling off another great action mystery.

Beer pairing: Grado Plato Strada – San Felice-a very unusual bottom-fermented, full-bodied beer made with local chestnuts, giving it an earthiness and a hint of sweetness.