This is going to be only half a review of “Angels and Demons” – because I could only make it through the first half of the film. In a different context, the film would just be average and destined for oblivion, not a killer. But the second half of this review, if you want to call it that, is the context – and that context is disastrous.
“Angels and Demons”, the follow-up to the blockbuster based on Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinici Code”, is actually from the previous book by that author. Not surprisingly, it’s been re-tooled as a sequel. That this can be done with a single line of dialog tells us how little we’ve learned about the character Robert Langdon, and how little these plots matter. I don’t feel the need to summarize. The ad campaign – from which, as Roger Ebert said last week about another movie, this film is merely an extrusion – surrounds you like CO2.
Langdon is played, once again, by Tom Hanks, our modern James Stewart, for his image as a kind and well-liked actor, lauded by his peers, loved by audiences, who takes roles about the human condition. And when you see Langdon emerge from the Olympic pool where he’s doing laps, you know that you will never see Tom Hanks looking this beautiful again. Now he will begin to age, into a different kind of beauty.
And unfortunately, for this important transitional moment in a terrific actor’s career, he has fallen into the hands of the worst director in America. That man is Ron Howard – also lauded multiple times by the Academy and big box office for films like “Apollo 13″ and just last year “Frost/Nixon”. How can I make the case, that I’ve been making for years, that this man should get nowhere near a camera?
Just look at “Frost/Nixon”. A fascinating film? Absolutely – and despite itself. We can’t take our eyes off one of the great stories in politics. Frank Langella was brilliant. And yet the film is lame-brained and directed with the plodding predictability of a hack. I won’t go into it more; you’ll either look at it again and see what I mean, or think I’m way off.
Now we have come to the tangent, on our way to a thesis. Howard is the worst director now working for the same reason that the new “Start Trek” film is a big fat gas bubble from an American mainstream cinema that’s on its way down – ultimately to be replaced by something better.
I am on record with an antically positive review of “Star Trek”. I admire the film for its genius as a political act. If politics is the art of the possible, director J.J. Abrams was the only choice to make a film that pleased just about everybody. And, in a deep sense, if we examine our hearts, nobody. Because Abrams – like a much more naturally gifted Howard – has made a film to sit on the very short shelf with the most cynical acts of compromise in movies.
Again, no time to elaborate; check your instincts. Either I’m right, or jaded. Right now I think I’m both. Every constant movie-goer goes through a period in which he has seen so many bad, new films in a row, he temporarily loses faith in the whole ball of wax I’ll get over it by next week. But for now, this thesis:
REAL DIRECTORS DO NOT COMPROMISE. Never mind the “auteur theory”. And never mind “film is a collaborative art”. A real director is someone who so extends the strength of his will that he bends people and technology to re-shape the world for just long enough to capture it in a bottle. A real director uses people and things like brushes and paints. And only real directors can give us movies that feed the soul.