All things considered, they probably did as well as they could in telescoping an expansive novel into a feature film (always a tricky and mostly thankless task…one wonders how the massive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is going to fare next year.) It’s certainly not a great movie…neither director Ron Howard nor star Tom Hanks need to clear any space on their awards shelves for their work here…but, if you just suspend disbelief and go with it, it’s a somewhat entertaining (if sometimes poorly paced) movie.
That said, one of the drawbacks of the movie is that it lacks the energy and sense of wonder and discovery of Dan Brown’s novel. The book is, at its core, a combination of a potboiler thriller and a detective story that keeps you reading despite some occasionally mundane prose and some preposterous suppositions. The movie’s characters spend an inordinate amount of time pulling answers out of thin air and ponderously explaining plot points (though, to be fair, some of the flashbacks accompanying some of these soliloquies are stylishly filmed.)
The movie touches on most of the book’s major plot points…rewriting some stuff (because that’s what Hollywood guys do) for reasons that escape me…but it sacrifices character development (and some continuity rhythm) to do so. People who’ve read the book can fill in the blanks when it comes to character motivations. People who haven’t can enjoy it as a mildly engaging treasure hunt of a film. In fact it might be a more satisfying movie going experience for those who haven’t read the book since some of the big “reveals” might actually surprise them rather than coloring the way they look at characters as soon as they appear on screen.
Howard tried to walk the fine line between telling the story and skirting the controversy of its main plot points…near the end Hanks is twice given lines aimed at the audience saying, truthfully enough I suppose, that what’s important is “what you believe”…and more or less (and for better or for worse) he succeeds in that.