Inferno Produces Smoke But Lacks Fire
Director: Ron Howard Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy Running Time: 121mins
Inferno marks the third time Tom Hanks has teamed up with Ron Howard to adapt a Dan Brown novel. The previous two installments being The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, both of which were released to fairly mixed results. After two failed attempts, could this third time be the charm? Could the pair have finally gotten it right?
The films follow the character of Robert Langdon (Hanks), a Harvard University professor of religious iconology and symbology. As is presumably the case with anyone involved in such an exciting profession, Langdon finds himself involved in increasingly outlandish life threatening conspiracies, and world ending scenarios, on a regular basis. For those unfamiliar with his previous madcap adventures, fear not – the films are all self contained, making Inferno accessible to newcomers and long time fans alike.
Inferno first introduces us to Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire scientist, through clips of a talk he is giving on the imminent threat of overpopulation. Zobrist (played by Ben Foster) is thankfully intent on solving this crisis, and receives rapturous applause. Unbeknownst to his audience he intends to do this by wiping out half the worlds population, with a lethal viral agent of his own design. Few might be so impressed. Cut to Zobrist being chased through the streets of Florence by unnamed forces. Cornered in a clock tower he throws himself out a window to protect his secrets. He explains to us via a handy voice-over that plans are already in motion, and someone will complete his mission. We are then treated to an unwavering view of his fairly graphic demise, as he cracks his head off a tiled roof, bounces, and quickly meets the hard cobbled street below.
Enter aging symbologist Robert Langdon. We join him as he wakes up disoriented in a hospital room in Florence with no idea how he got there. Robert is suffering from amnesia, ominous visions, and a pretty nasty head wound. His attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), fills him in on what little details she has regarding his condition. When a police officer attempts to shoot Langdon in his hospital bed, Dr. Brooks helps him escape. On the run from the authorities, a mysterious organization, and the nefarious World Health Organization(!), the two fugitives must solve a trail of clues relating to Dante’s Inferno, and slowly piece together Langdon’s missing memories, in an attempt to prevent the impending viral apocalypse.
Inferno is for all intents and purposes, a reasonably well assembled genre effort. It may even be one of the more solid entries in this series. It is still however a distinctly average affair; following the well worn formula of “hero on the run, being chased by the authorities”, complete with all the usual twists, betrayals, and near-miss escapes. The film plays like an aging European vacationers version of Jason Bourne.
A good 70% of the film’s run time is exactly that – people running, from one place to the next. The time in between is spent spouting mildly diverting nonsense about Dante’s works that may or may not help them save the world. It’s easy enough to let yourself sit back and go along for the ride, but it can’t help but get a little tiresome as the film wears on. At just two hours Inferno still feels about half an hour too long.
Tom Hanks, incapable of turning in an unlikable performance, mutters and bumbles his way through his characters amnesia plot to reasonably charming effect. Felicity Jones unfortunately has all the charm and presence of a lead pipe. Her po-faced performance does little to inspire confidence that she can carry the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or that casting agents understand the concept of charisma. One bright spot is Irrfan Khan who is wonderfully unsettling as the pragmatic, imposing, and mysterious ‘Provost’. His character is a welcome addition midway through proceedings.
Ron Howard’s direction is acceptable but unremarkable. What little fun he has early on with Langdon’s nightmarish visions of hell, are quickly lost as the film progresses. A score by Hans Zimmer, presumably working on autopilot, goes completely unnoticed. One can’t help but feel a similar fate awaits the film as a whole.(2 / 5)