“Oh highest virtue, you who lead me through these circles of transgression, at your will, do speak to me, and satisfy my longings.”
The above exchange is from the 10th Canto of the first part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Inferno) as Dante and Virgil traverse the 6th circle of hell; though author Dan Brown could just as well have thought the poem was referring to him.
Inferno, the third Brown adaptation by Director Ron Howard, has done something I thought impossible; bringing together two of my favourite, if inversely talented writers.
Inferno, as with Brown’s Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, all featuring renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, the most trusted man in America), are the gold standard in digestible, guilty-pleasure pulp fiction. That’s not a bad thing.
His books, all aberrant fun, feature Langdon running around some city with a beautiful woman half his age, unravelling anagrams, defacing priceless artefacts and shamelessly appropriating centuries-old icons and their life’s achievements, in this case Florence’s most famous son Dante Alighieri. Its shameless; and we eat up every word.
This time around, Robert, following in the best tradition of 5 Jason Bourne blockbusters, has lost his memory and must piece the clues together with the help of improbably-placed Dante-fanatic Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). Bollywood superstar Irrfan Khan inexplicably joins the fray, delivering with poise and elegance even the film’s most absurd lines, while Omar Sy has the unique pleasure of leading a team of elite commandos into dangerous situations while shouting, “Stop! World Health Organisation!”
Not the only well-regarded organisation to suffer an ignominious facelift at Brown’s whim, prominent New York think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations, which also featured in Inferno, was mercifully left out of the film’s proceedings; one of the only changes in an otherwise loyal adaptation of a novel replete with intensive visuals evidently written with a future screenplay in mind.
Translating well to film, the latest thrill-ride for conspiracy-tragics by the author who tried to convince you that someone could survive after free-falling from a helicopter soaring over the Vatican, if predictable, is a great deal of globe-hopping fun. The motivation of this instalment’s villain (rising star Ben Foster) is the most outlandishly diabolical of all Langdon’s adversaries; his resonance throughout the film in spite of his death in the opening minutes a credit to Foster’s uncanny ability to be menacing irregardless of what he has to work with.
Dante, amidst all his quite literally hellish literary preferences, had his own subversive strand of humour. Here diluted at times to rearranging letters and Where’s Wally antics, the poet might likely have gotten a kick out of Brown and Howard’s completely facile treatment of his greatest work where even a supposed expert misquotes the final stage of Dante’s saga.
Hanks’ third outing as the tweed-plaid professor is exactly what was due for those who don’t take themselves or the author too seriously; and for those who relish a reliably hammy Robert Langdon jaunt, to accurately quote Dante’s final chapter, “I cannot write it: all words would fall far short of what it was.”
Inferno is in cinemas from October 13