“Inferno” is a movie that satisfies like a single serve airline meal. The pulp globe-trotting mystery doesn’t have nutritional value, the rich taste of a restaurant dish, or the care of something home cooked; it’s purpose built to fill a void quickly and induce a mild vegetative state.
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence with no recollection of how he came to be there. With a gun-shot scrape to the head, a case of amnesia that shrouds his purpose there and experiencing apparitions of the suffering in Dante’s descriptions of Hell; in other words all the feelings that you experience when you realise you’re watching the film. When an assassin attempts to take Langdon out in his hospital bed, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) comes to his aide and shelters him. With a portable digital projector that displays an altered image of Botticelli’s version of Dante’s Hell, he glimpses the breadcrumbs of a puzzle leading to a disease that threatens to correct the course of potential human extinction (via over-population).
“Inferno” is most certainly flawed. The momentum of the film nearly negates the beautiful locations, particularly the grandeur and beauty of Florence. Director Ron Howard has cinematographer Salvatore Totino streaming through the ancient structures, gardens and locales like he’s trying to secure pole position at the F1. The most interesting elements of the film; brief amnesia from Hanks’ Robert Langdon (crippling the character of his ‘power’) and some gnarly Dante inspired visions that seem - both originating from a ‘bullet scrape’ to the head - have ever so convenient explanations. The true head scratcher is the crazed villain’s curious approach to exacting his vision. His purpose is a mass culling, to infect the globe with a virus that less than half of the population will survive. Instead of just releasing this weapon (it’s synthesised and ready to drop from minute one in the movie); he feels the need to go all Riddler and gift wrap a warning for the authorities, allowing for time to engage agents or people like Langdon to track it down.
Even the legendary Tom Hanks can’t seem to make you really care about Langdon. It’s as if his awareness that the character is just a code breaking plot device scrolls across his eyes like a poker machine or the points accumulating on his frequent flyer card. The characters seem to have additional texture in the novels that doesn’t translate to the big screen. The lack of being able to get into the characters heads makes their function in the film adaptation so obvious.
The antagonist of “Inferno” is TED Talking, Elon Musk billionaire genius Bertand Zobrist (played by the ever reliable Ben Foster). His suicide triggers the events of “Inferno” and so his entire performance is rendered in talks, video messages and flash-backs. Felicity Jones plays Sienna Brooks, Langdon’s latest lady side-kick. Instead of being relegated to a position of ‘exposition prompter,’ (lest we forget the waste of the wonderful Audrey Tatou) she’s the expert on Dante. In Langdon’s diminished capacity, Sienna takes the point position and follows the breadcrumbs through another Italian artist whose work is ripe for conspiratorial exploit. Brown novels/and their adaptions always have a Langdon ally in cahoots with the big bad; Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen are notable stars that need to be seen doing ‘questionable’ things from across piazzas in order maintain the misdirection.
The absolute highlight of the film is Irrfan Khan’s Harry Sims; the leader of a shadowy security company, who had been hired by Zobrist for the purposes of keeping him off the grid. When Sims and his team discover Zobrist’s intentions he feels responsible and becomes a part of the chorus hunting down the virus’ location. Khan, in films like “The Life of Pi” is the older, endearing charmer or “Jurassic World” the Richard Branson-esque philanthropist; as Sims he does not give a flying fuck. His team regularly assassinate, subvert the course of justice by framing up people for crimes that they didn’t commit, kidnap persons of interest; and hearing the man himself be a blunt voice of reason makes you want a whole movie about this guy’s morally and politically ambivalent operation.
Dan Brown’s source material manages to make a film directed by Ron Howard, adapted by David Koepp and starring Tom Hanks a wearying experience. The book had to be abandoned at the half way mark. The literary water boarding had to stop. There’s nothing about the work of Brown or this film that couldn’t be fixed by a raging blaze.
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: (based on the novel by Dan Brown) David Koepp
Cinematography: Salvatore Totino
Tom Hanks - Robert Langdon
Felicity Jones - Sienna Brooks
Omar Sy - Christoph Bouchard
Irrfan Khan - Harry Sims
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Ben Foster - Zobrist
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.