Florence: Inferno film review

inferno_2016_filmI saw the movie Inferno this weekend. Since it is set in Florence for a large part (as well as in Venice and Istanbul), I think it is appropriate to post my review here. Inferno is the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel of the same name.

Story

Both the novel and the movie are about a raving mad scientist, Bertrand Zobrist (played by Ben Foster in the film), who thinks that there are too many people on this planet and who uses his skills as a geneticist to create a radical solution to this major problem: an incredibly dangerous pathogen. Just before he is arrested by a WHO security team, he throws himself off the tower of the Badia Fiorentina in Florence. But his invention is still out there and a terrible threat to the world. Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) therefore has to save mankind again and is helped by a mysterious young doctor named Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a child prodigy. The name Inferno refers to the first part of Dante Aligieri’s Divine Comedy, a famous early fourteenth century poem. This work plays a major role in both the book and the film (and explains the presence of a symbologist in a story about pathogens and genetics).

Dante's death mask.

Dante’s death mask (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).

I must admit I did not particularly like the book. Angels & Demons was a good book, The Da Vinci Code was enjoyable as well, I guess The Lost Symbol was OK, but Inferno just did not do it for me. It started off well, with some excellent and exciting scenes in Florence. However, about halfway through the book the story loses credibility, the dialogues become laughable and the riddles childish. I managed to solve the riddle about the Doge and the horses in two seconds while our dear professor was seemingly clueless. The ending to Inferno was truly a disaster. Calling it an open ending is an insult to open endings. It was as if Dan Brown had run out of ideas and thought: “Oh well, people will buy my book anyway, so I’ll send it to my publisher whether it’s finished or not”. The rather lame ending must have posed a quite challenge to director Ron Howard and writer David Koepp when they were working on the script for Inferno the movie.

The movie

So how as the film? To sum up: since my expectations were not that high, I was certainly not disappointed. I found the movie to be mildly entertaining, although there were plenty of things that I did not like. The scenes in Florence were the best part of the film for me. There were plenty of beautiful shots of famous locations like the Badia, the Bargello, the Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo and the Baptistery. Florence is just a gorgeous city, and many of the eagle-eye shots were particularly well done. Most of the actors performed reasonably well too. Tom Hanks is certainly still the best choice for Robert Langdon and Indian actor Irrfan Khan was a pleasant surprise as The Provost, the leader of the shady international organisation that helped mad geneticist Zobrist to stay out of sight. The Provost’s name in the movie is Harry Sims – I do not think he had a name in the novel – and his dry humour is quite refreshing.

Badia (left) and Bargello (right), seen from the Palazzo Vecchio.

Badia (left) and Bargello (right), seen from the Palazzo Vecchio.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the movie The Provost for some reason suddenly changes into a knife-wielding thug who kills Omar Sy’s character (Christophe Bouchard; Bruder in the novel, but apparently the makers thought it was inappropriate for a French-Senegalese actor to have a German name…). The Provost subsequently gets into rather ridiculous knife fights in the cistern in Istanbul. There he is killed by Sienna Brooks, Langdon’s – at this point: former – sidekick who turns out to have a dark secret of her own.

Hairy affair

For some reason, Sienna Brooks is a brunette in the movie, while Dan Brown mentions her blond ponytail on just about every page of the novel. More importantly, the director was obviously loath to include one tiny, but very important detail about Sienna’s hair: it is fake. In the novel, she is bald and is actually wearing a wig, for reasons that are explained in greater detail in the book (on a side note: not the most convincing part of the book). The Elizabeth Sinskey of the book – the director of the WHO – is a sterile woman in her sixties, but Howard and Koepp apparently thought that was not ‘sexy’ enough for a movie. The Sinskey of the film (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a rather attractive lady in her mid-forties, who turns out to be a former lover of Langdon. This part of the movie really made me cringe. Finally, the ‘bad girl’ of the book, an assassin named Vayentha, had short spiked hair. Not feminine enough for the director: actress Ana Ularu sports long hair.

The Palazzo Vecchio.

The Palazzo Vecchio.

One mistake in the movie was immensely annoying. When Langdon and Sienna flee from Sienna’s apartment in Florence, Langdon tells her that they should go to “the Palazzo Vecchio, near the Boboli Gardens”. Come on! Everyone knows the Palazzo Vecchio is not near the Boboli Gardens. Those Gardens are in Oltrarno, on the other side of the river Arno. In fact, it is about a mile from the Porta Romana – where Langdon and Sienna enter the Gardens – to the Palazzo, which is in the historical city centre. Apparently famous symbologist and Dante expert Robert Langdon has limited knowledge of the streets of Florence, and the same goes for Sienna, who supposedly lives there and knows her way.

Conclusion

All in all, I saw a movie that was amusing, but certainly not great. It could have been (much) better, but it could also have been worse, much, much worse. I think the writer and director made the most out of Dan Brown’s mediocre novel. The movie’s current score on IMDB is 6,5. That would be my rating too: 6,5 out of 10.

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