“Inferno” A Movie Review by Liz Warner
There hasn’t been a lot of love from reviewers (or the box office) for “Inferno,” but I’m not going to be as rough on this flick. I liked it, with reservations.
It helps to know from the outset the film gains its trite title from Dante’s “Inferno,” the first part of the “Devine Comedy,” and not from, say, any number of novels with the same title by authors from August Strindberg to Alex Irvine (“Batman”) or Troy Denning (“Star Wars.”)
It is, however, an adaptation (screenplay by David Koepp) of a 2013 Dan Brown bestselling thriller, the third in a trilogy centered around protagonist Harvard professor and art historian Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who, in this incarnation, finds himself in an Italian hospital in Florence, with amnesia, apparently the victim of a head injury.
Here, he meets a doctor, named Sienna (Felicity Jones), who exhibits just a little too much interest in him, claiming, somewhat incongruously, she had taken a course from him. It’s incongruous because Langdon teaches symbology/cryptology, not medicine. One just has to trust that it will all make sense, and largely, by the end of the film, it does.
Sienna manages to help Langdon regain his memory rather quickly, and the two undertake to discover the mystery behind a global threat using arcane clues requiring interpretation by someone, like Langdon, who is well-versed in Dante Alighieri, a 14th century Florentine poet whose saga, “Devine Comedy” followed a man’s journey through hell, or “Inferno.”
A billionaire bioengineer named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) created a virus (dubbed Inferno) to kill off half the world’s population. His motive isn’t totally sinister: he truly believes overpopulation is an existential threat to the world he otherwise glorifies, though the audience isn’t given much time to contemplate this notion.
Assassins seek to foil Langdon’s discovery and destruction of the virus Inferno (along with Dante’s death mask) with some enjoyable and baffling twists along the way. It can’t be said there aren’t any surprises, though they may seem to be items hidden for a bizarre scavenger hunt.
There’s nothing to complain about Ron Howard’s direction here. He does the job fluently even if the story gets a little lost in the translation. Adaptations of books are notably difficult for directors and screenwriters alike, since what can be read in a book cannot always be shown on a screen.
In this case, the exposition is heavy-handed, and anyone with a low tolerance for pedantics might find the experience trying. Even for viewers with enough arcane knowledge about Dante, it’s still a bit of a burden to project “Inferno” from history to prophecy, but for anyone willing to make that leap, there’s an interesting plot here.
It also helps to know Dante Alighieri’s old haunting grounds and body of work. If you don’t, you’re left to infer, something not everyone is inclined to do. The movie is more of an academic exercise than an extracurricular one, which is perhaps its major flaw.
It’s plot-driven, to be sure, so don’t expect a character-rich story. In fact, the lack of character development is somewhat of a lost opportunity, especially with Harry Sims (Irrfan Kahn), a corporate spymaster.
The film is well-cast and well acted, though it is Kahn, rather than Hanks, who seems best suited for his role. The locations (Florence, Venice, and Istanbul) are almost characters in their own right, which is something I always appreciate, especially when, as was the case here, I’ve actually been there. We get some remarkable cinematology of tourist sites beyond what is typically on the tourist map, including a subterranean take of Aya Sofia in Istanbul.
Although I have not read the book, I suspect this is a classic case where the book is better than the movie, but not for a lack of trying by the filmmakers. Part of being a good writer is, of course, selecting the best medium to tell your story.
I don’t rate with stars. Instead, I use the simple method of saying whether or not a flick was worth a Hamilton, or the price of a theater ticket. This was worth a Hamilton.
PG-13, 102 m.