National Treasure

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

      “National Treasure” is a completely illogical mid-grade thriller starring Nicholas Cage who is not known for his ability to sustain such ventures.  We flock to the illogicals when the suspense is high (“Air Force One”) the star glamorous (Harrison Ford) or the story clever (“The Thomas Crown Affair”).  This movie has none of those things.  Why go?  Go for producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s bright imagery, sharp photography of Washington , D.C. , and an intriguing premise. 

     As if it is the overture to “The Da Vinci Code” which is now in production, “National Treasure” is rooted in an historical mystery whose solution is the movie’s plot.  The treasure that claims the attention of generations of the Gates family is something that was hidden by America ’s founding fathers who were determined to keep their booty from falling into the hands of the British.  To guard its location, they devised a series of devilish clues that stopped searchers cold.  

     The Gates family needs to solve the puzzle in order to refute accusations that they are conspiracy theorists.  It is only when Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) grows into his own passion for the hunt that the search catches fire.  Ben has a talent, somewhat akin to Professor X’s x-ray mind, for deciphering the clues that were laid down to bedevil the British.   So far, so great.

     It’s at this point that you need not only to suspend your desire for credibility, but to bury it deeply for two hours.  Benjamin has discovered that the next clue is written on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  So has his competitor, Ian Howe (Sean Bean).  How can they examine the fabled document?  They must steal it.  A beautiful National Archives executive, Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) mocks Ben’s theory but falls in love with him anyway and becomes his accomplice.  Jon Voight and Harvey Keitel play good guys while Justin Bartha generates a little much needed comic relief as Ben’s techno nerd sidekick. 

     The obligatory explosions and car chases kick in for a while until we begin to yawn.  What saves the film is the bright, lingering photography of Washington ’s monuments and buildings that pass by during the search to underline the way we have chosen to memorialize the men who built the country and earned the tributes.  The filmmakers had clever fun sprinkling the names of the era on the characters:  Gates, Howe, Chase. 

     Nicholas Cage has not one ounce of visible humor, not a drop of irony, no wink to let us know he is having fun.  He never brings us into the game.  You will be sorely tested many times – most surely perhaps, when Ben and Abby squeeze the juice of sliced lemons onto the back of the stolen Declaration and then breathe their newly hot breaths on the puddle to bring up the invisible writing.  It’s a laugh out loud moment, but only the audience seems to know it’s funny. 



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