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Movie Review: ‘Inferno’ Charm to the Movie in the Wrong Place

By Bob Garverdownload

“Inferno” is the third film to star Tom Hanks as adventure-prone symbology professor Robert Langdon. The two previous films were 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code” and 2009’s “Angels & Demons.” Like the James Bond franchise, the titles don’t follow a pattern. Unlike the James Bond franchise, I don’t see many people staying loyal to the character for fifty years. Langdon has existed in movies for ten years now, and many people who have seen “Inferno” agree that’s more than enough.

The movie opens with villain Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) committing suicide. Zobrist was a steadfast believer that overpopulation was about to spell doom for the human race. In response, he developed Inferno, a virus capable of wiping out half of humanity. Yes, this movie is filled with lines like “Humanity is a disease, Inferno is the cure.” Zobrist was also a big fan of the poet Dante, author of the “Divine Comedy.” He knew he wouldn’t live to unleash the virus himself, so he left a trail of Dante-centric clues so a follower could find it. Who did he leave it for? A friend? A lover? Maybe even Professor Langdon, since Dante falls into that European literature/art/history wheelhouse of his?

We first see Langdon when he wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with amnesia. How did he get there? How did he suffer a mysterious head wound? Why is he having Dante-themed hallucinations? Why is a policewoman trying to kill him? Why is he suddenly the top priority of the World Health Organization? He has to piece together what happened over the last few days. Sienna (Felicity Jones), the nurse on duty, is nice enough to help him escape the hospital, and then assists him in deciphering Zobrist’s clues so they can get to Inferno first. Because the right people getting to Inferno first is what’s best for everybody.

Ah, but who are “the right people?” Langdon is pretty sure that he’s a good guy, but he’s having a hard time trusting himself with the amnesia. Sienna is a lowly nurse who’s a humanitarian, so she’s probably not evil. Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a W.H.O. official leading the investigation into her former lover Langdon, but does she have an ulterior motive? How about Bouchard (Omar Sy), the former pursuer of Zobrist working under Sinskey? What role do the murderous policewoman and her boss Sims (Iffran Khan) play in all this? They must be bad news because they do bad things: she shoots an orderly and the silver-tongued Sims steals the movie. (Zing!)

Most of the movie is Langdon and Sienna running around deciphering clues and avoiding capture by anybody until they know who’s on which side. Langdon’s gift is that he always seems to know about shortcuts and secret passages in centuries-old buildings. The puzzle-solving usually involves rapid-fire cuts to various clues and sources. You’ll find these brainstorms engaging if you’ve never seen a Langdon movie – or any other mystery movie – before. I’ve heard complaints that these sequences “spoon-feed” information to the viewer, but I’m so ignorant when it comes to Italian history that I could be force-fed information with a funnel in my mouth and I still wouldn’t know what Langdon is talking about.

To be honest, the thing I enjoyed most about “Inferno” was a twist I figured out. I saw a piece of evidence that I thought everyone else missed and I felt proud of myself when I turned out to be right. Then I got home and saw that people online were calling it the easiest “mystery” they’d ever seen. I guess it is pretty easy to see. This movie isn’t going to break any new ground in the mystery/adventure genre, but at least I liked the characters played by Foster, Khan, and Jones to a point. Hanks and Knudsen, the supposedly sweet ones, fell flat for me. There is a charm to this movie, just not where it’s supposed to be.

Two Stars out of Five.

“Inferno” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality. Its running time is 121 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.