Angels and Demons

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            You won’t fall asleep in this one. Director Ron Howard has made sure of that. “Angels and Demons” gives audiences the two things that turn a preposterous thriller into a winner: speed and a wink. He drives his movie through the streets and sights of Rome at top speed leaving us little time to ask questions; and his wink says, “don’t take this too seriously.” While fascinating bits of history are strewn about, we are never asked to become believers. Permission to have a good time is a director’s generous gift to his audiences.

            The Pope is dead. The Cardinals have gathered in the Vatican to elect one of their own under the direction of interim boss, the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor). St. Peter’s Square envelops the faithful who await the white smoke. But wait. The Inspector General of the Vatican police has summoned Harvard Professor Langdon (Tom Hanks), renowned symbologist and persona non grata at the Vatican for his insistent requests for access to the archives for research on his new book. Swiss physicist Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) has also been summoned because her work on antimatter has been stolen. The antimatter is in suspension (I love this) in a glass cylinder and will collide when the battery runs out. Vittoria has a spare.

            Four Cardinals, all in the running for the top spot, have been kidnapped and will be killed, one each hour, starting at eight o’clock. At midnight, the vial of antimatter will blow up all of the Vatican and most of Rome. Langdon and Vittoria must find the vial by following clues to the whereabouts of the four churches where the Cardinals will be killed. Has the secret organization of the Illuminati returned to Rome for vengeance on the church that destroyed Galileo and scientific thought?

            If the impossibility of black cars speeding through Rome in search of four churches tends to rile you, just enjoy the destinations – the Pantheon, Bernini’s sculptures, a chapel designed by Raphael, and St. Peter’s. Along the way, Professor Langdon delivers the history of the war between church and science in short articulate bursts of speed speech as if to keep it simple for us ordinary folk. It works.

            You will not be surprised at the discovery of a villain, a hero, and a pile of victims. Everything is sorted out in a dazzling finale that lights up the sky and only then do we begin to wonder if Tom Hanks is a little to all-American for this role or if Ewan McGregor’s Scotch accent is really a good fit in theVatican. The movie is far too much fun to quibble with such things. Let us just enjoy a bastion of dignity coming unraveled. There is little question that the College of Cardinals and the Conclave make American politics look like sandbox play. When a strong Cardinal warns Langdon, “Be careful, these are men of God,” we know he got that one right.
 


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