If you are Catholic, have no fear. You can go to see Angels & Demons without committing a mortal sin. Some of the staunchest critics of Dan Brown’s other thriller-into-movie, The Da Vinci Code, have barely raised an eyebrow over this recently released film. Ron Howard, in fact, tried to stir up some headlines (controversy sells tickets), by announcing that the Vatican had prohibited filming inside its sainted walls. Well, the Vatican rarely grants filming rights to outsiders, so Howard’s strategy was a little off the mark.
The movie reviewer for the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops called the film “highly improbable but mindlessly entertaining.” That description sums it up pretty well. The movie is fast-paced, and one senses not just to keep the action moving, but to prevent anyone from focusing too long on whether the story is plausible. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Taken in the right spirit, there are far worse ways to spend a few hours.
Tom Hanks turns in another likeable performance as Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, sought out by the Vatican to avert a crisis that will affect the naming of the next Pope. Ayelet Zurer plays the movie equivalent of the Bond girl and more than satisfies as Hanks’ brainy partner, working to save the Vatican from destruction. There are three stand-out performances by Ewan McGregor, as a young priest, Stellan Skarsgard, as the head of the Swiss Guard, and Armin Mueller-Stahl, as Cardinal Strauss, that lift the movie out of “B” territory. (Photo above shows Mueller-Stahl left, and McGregor).
Perhaps the best reason to see the movie, however, is the cinematography. The Catholic Church is known for its pageantry and ceremony and nothing is as awe-inspiring as a contingent of Cardinals dressed in bright red flowing robes filing into the Sistine Chapel to vote for the next Pope. The scenes of Rome are breathtaking. You will recognize the Pantheon and several of the Eternal City’s most outstanding cathedrals. If you are unable to make it to Italy this summer, this film can serve as a substitute. And that’s a blessing.