I’m not much of a Dan Brown fan—I’ve read just one of his books (ten years ago), and until now had seen none of the movies—but I am a fan of Dante. In college, I had a bit of an obsession with The Divine Comedy for a while, and that brought me to see Inferno, the latest adaptation of a novel by the author of The Davinci Code.
Coming into the film without much prior knowledge of Brown’s characters, I was able to pick up the threads fairly easily. Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in an emergency room in Florence with terrible visions but no real memory of the last couple of days. The last thing he remembers is being on campus in Cambridge. As an assassin (Ana Ularu) hired by a secret organization helmed by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan) hunts him, he is helped by Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a child prodigy and doctor who was looking after him at the hospital. Also on Langdon’s tail is the World Health Organization, represented by his old flame, Marta Alvarez (Ida Darvish), and Christopher Bouchard (Omar Sy). Meanwhile, Langdon is trying to figure out why everyone is after him, and why he is in Florence in the first place. All clues lead back to Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), an eccentric billionaire and bioengineer who has raised alarms about the dangers of overpopulation. Zobrist argues that unless something drastic is done, humanity will bring about its own extinction. His idea for a solution is a plague, Inferno, which would quickly reduce the population by half. Langdon and Sienna are on the path Zobrist left, trying to find the virus before it is released or gets into the wrong hands.
Inferno’s villain argues that pain is a great teacher and perhaps the suffering of the plague cannot only cure the problems of overpopulation, but also teach humanity valuable lessons. This message, while not endorsed by the film’s hero, curiously plays with the original Dante, in which pain taught lessons to sinners about their sins. One of the stronger aspects of the film is how passionately and rationally the bad guy’s plan is argued. While not exactly relatable, Zobrist is developed as a full, sympathetic person and his ideas, while murderous in execution, have a kind of scary sense to them.
Unfortunately, the first act of the film does not have this same clarity. I understand that the jumbled style of the beginning is meant to parallel Dr. Langdon’s own confusion after his head injury. Nevertheless, the intercutting of the visions with his amnesia comes across heavy handed and does not have enough payoff later on in the story to justify how slow and sloppy it makes the first act. Once he has a sense of what he is trying to accomplish, the film hits its stride and becomes much more interesting, but the first half hour was a rambling, irritating mess. The plot does have a fairly good twist later on, but for the most part, it could have clipped along and a better pace with less distraction.
The acting in Inferno is good enough. No one is really giving great performances, but no one really stands out as a weak link, either. The chemistry between Hanks and Jones as leads is lackluster, making it hard to root for them as a team rather than a couple of interesting individuals.
The most aesthetically pleasing part of Inferno is how the film uses location shooting in Florence. Although director Ron Howard isn’t responsible for the beauty of the city itself, I can give him credit for maximizing on it. Aerial shots of the red rooftops and the use of the beautiful interiors of Florence’s museums and churches heightens the otherwise fairly pedestrian plot of the film, lending some credibility to Langdon’s obsession with Dante.
Inferno is a passable thriller with some exciting scenes and an intense climax. Its stumbling journey getting there, however, detracts from the overall quality of the picture. I rate it 2.5/5 stars.
Inferno was written by David Koepp, based on the novel by Dan Brown, and directed by Ron Howard. It runs 121 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality.