Film Review: Inferno

inferno movie poster one sheetAuthor Dan Brown had a blockbuster success with the book “The DaVinci Code” back in 2003, but even with celebrity power of star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard, the 2006 film did poorly and isn’t very well considered. Part two of the trilogy featuring Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon is “Angels & Demons” and its 2009 cinematic adaptation was a distinct improvement over the first film.

Enter “Inferno“, the third Langdon adventure. Named after the hell as portrayed in Renaissance author Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy”, it revolves around the actions of billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). Zobrist is convinced that all the major economic and environmental problems on Earth are caused by overpopulation. and he posits the question of whether it’s more merciful to kill of half the world’s population to save humanity or do nothing and us go extinct in a century.

Professor Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in an Italian hospital, being treated by ER doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). He has a bandage on his head, a slight concussion and learns to his surprise that he was shot and barely survived the ordeal. Why is he in Florence, Italy? His last memories are of being in Boston, on campus at Harvard. The film quickly begins its fast paced story with Langdon and Brooks having to escape the hospital to avoid imminent danger. Chasing him are all sorts of people he doesn’t know, including lethal carabinieri Vayentha (Ana Ularu), World Health Organization hired gun Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) and possible old flame Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), also at the WHO.

Taking place primarily in Florence, Venice and Istanbul, we learn that Zobrist has created the seeds of a global pandemic in his zeal to winnow down the Earth’s population. Can Langdon and Brooks find it in time? That’s going to prove particularly tricky because one problem Langdon has to come to terms with as the film proceeds is who he can trust and who might be working for the shadowy Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan) and his private security firm.

A cornerstone of the entire series are cryptic Renaissance puzzles that Langdon must solve, complex riddles that involve secrets hidden in paintings and sculptures. This time it starts with Botticelli’s infamous painting of Dante’s Inferno that seems to have some subtle additions. Piecing them together leads them to Dante’s death mask. Except that mask’s been stolen! Dead end? Through ingenious twists and turns, director Ron Howard keeps the film zipping along and while there’s definitely some suspension of disbelief required, Inferno is a terrifically entertaining film.

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and XX (Felicity Jones), from "Inferno"
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Brooks (Felicity Jones), from “Inferno”

It’s also a beautifully filmed movie too with great panoramic shots of all three primary locales, Florence, Venice and Istanbul, some of which were likely taken with high-end cinematic drones. This is something all three films in the series have in common, actually, showing a lush triptych that makes me want to fly to Italy and spend a few months exploring.

Pay attention to people’s motivations as the film proceeds too, as the narrative gets confusing at times, what with flashbacks as Langdon’s amnesia gradually lifts and his hellacious and unexplained visions that can be quite disturbing. The first few minutes of the film are particularly challenging with the fading focus and quick cuts between reality and visions Langdon suffers as a result of his head injury.

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a light, entertaining thriller you’ll enjoy Inferno and its non-stop action through some of the most beautiful spots in Italy and Turkey.

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