Bertrand Zobrist is the anti-Bill Gates. Rather than use his billions to improve people’s health around the globe, Zobrist plans to unleash a plague to reduce the world’s population. Inferno, based on a Dan Brown novel, brings back Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, who must thwart Zobrist’s plot. But there’s a problem: Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there. His physician, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), tells him he sustained a head injury after being grazed by a bullet. Before she can explain further, an Italian police officer, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), shows up, shoots another doctor and begins shooting at Langdon. He and Sienna escape to her apartment where they try to figure out why someone wants Langdon dead.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) study the Map Of Hell.
The first clue is a small cylinder made out of bone that Langdon finds in his pocket. The object is actually a projector that contains one image: Botticelli’s Map of Hell based on Dante’s Inferno. The illustration has been tweaked, adding the words: “The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.” Once again Brown has fashioned a mystery that involves a scavenger hunt. For the next 107 minutes, Robert and Sienna will take us on a whirlwind tour of Florence’s artistic treasures as they seek to discover where Zobrist has hidden the virus.
Ignazio (Gábor Urmai) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) inspect Dante’s Death Mask.
“The eyes of death” turns out to be the death mask of Dante. Unfortunately, the mask is missing. Surveillance footage shows Langdon, along with his friend, Ignazio Busoni (Gábor Urmai), stealing the mask, even though Langdon has no memory of being the thief.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) presents his over population theory.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) committed suicide, but his followers have vowed to carry out his wishes. Besides Langdon, there are others out to find the virus, including officials from the World Health Organization and someone who hopes to sell the virus to the highest bidder. Langdon knows he met with someone in Cambridge to discuss Zobrist, but he can’t remember if it was his friend Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), or Omar Sy (Christoph Bouchard). Without knowing whom to trust, Langdon is forced to rely only on Sienna. They manage to keep two steps ahead of their pursuers, until they are separated and Langdon is apprehended. An unlikely ally comes to his aid and helps to fill in the blanks in Langdon’s memory.
Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) analyze Dante’s text.
Brown’s books have never been hailed as literary masterpieces. (In one review, his prose was described as “dreadful.”) Ron Howard, who also directed the film adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demon, understands that fans love Brown’s books not because of the language, but because the plots are a thrill ride. The film’s visual effects, recreating Langdon’s dreams of being caught up in Dante’s Inferno, are appropriately gruesome.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) make their way through St. Marks Square in Venice.
Those scenes of hell are offset by the visual beauty of Florence and Venice. Besides the aerial shots over these two glorious cities, we spend time on the ground, glimpsing Florence’s Boboli Gardens, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Baptistry, while also enjoying a stroll around Venice’s Piazza San Marco and a boat ride down the Grand Canal. (You may want to book a trip on your iPhone as you leave the theater.)
Hanks is having a banner year playing heroes: Sully, the pilot responsible for “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and Langdon, a low key academic who keeps finding himself in dangerous situations. In Inferno, Hanks not only saves the planet, he manages to save the film, too.
Inferno opens nationwide October 28, 2016.
Photos by Jonathan Prime courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Top photo: Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) on the balcony of St. Marks Basilica.
“It’s been a long time that New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.”
We toss around the word “hero” a lot, but often that word describes ordinary people just doing their jobs with extraordinary results. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one such person. On January 15, 2009, Sully was piloting a US Airways plane out of LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada Geese struck the Airbus A320. With both engines gone, Sully realized there was no hope of landing at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Scenes of the water rescue dominated the airwaves and newspapers all over New York and, indeed, the world. The event was declared “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed a hero by the media and he and his team even appeared on The David Letterman Show. One New York tavern named a drink in his honor. “The Sully, Grey Goose with a splash of water,” the bartender tells him. It’s one lighthearted moment in Clint Eastwood’s taut, tense, and terrific film starring Tom Hanks as Sully.
While the public was celebrating a new hero, things were darker behind the scenes. (The film is based on Highest Duty by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.) The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the incident seemed determined to prove that Sully made the wrong decision. Facing the NTSB panel, Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are told that computer simulations prove they had enough time to make it back to LaGuardia. The second engine still had thrust and would have supported the plane for the time it took to land on the ground, they say. “Not possible,” Sully tells them. Leaving the meeting, Sully tells Skiles, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”
Not only would such a ruling by the NTSB turn the tide on public opinion, but would effectively end Sully’s career and cancel his pension. Sully has to stay in New York until the NTSB completes its investigation. While he wades through a sea of journalists whenever he leaves his hotel, his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), is essentially a prisoner in her home, the media camped out on her front lawn.
Sully maintains an authoritative presence in public, but in private he suffers flashbacks and has trouble sleeping. (In interviews, Sullenberger revealed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks following the accident.) In the film, Sully’s nightmares find the plane crashing into buildings, exploding in flames, scenes that are sure to remind many of 9/11. Battling those sleepless nights, Sully takes to running, one evening finding himself across from the Intrepid Museum, staring at a fighter plane that he once piloted and reliving another moment when he had to bring down a disabled plane. (Sullenberger graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, holds a post graduate degree from Purdue, and was once a member of the Air Force’s aircraft accident investigation board.)
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Sullenberger, demonstrating a steely resolve while making what many would consider a foolhardy decision to land a jet on water. But he also allows us to see Sully behind the scenes, uncomfortable basking in the media’s glare while also having his decision second-guessed by government officials who have never flown a plane. Co-pilot Skiles (a great supporting performance by Eckhardt), never wavers in his support of Sully, even when confronted by the NTSB panel. For that government group, Eastwood has gathered actors who do unlikeable very, very well. Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn as the NTSB investigators seem less willing to discover the truth and more eager to bring Sully down, whatever the cost.
While those confrontations are fascinating, the center of the film is, of course, the miracle itself. Eastwood has recreated the entire event with such realism that we can feel the terror the passengers felt when Sully ordered, “Brace for impact!” Soon after landing, the passengers find themselves standing on the plane’s wings or huddled in one of the inflated slides. And while Sully managed the impossible by landing the plane, those passengers might have perished in the Hudson’s frigid waters if first responders had not made it to the scene so quickly, taking the terrified survivors onto boats, rescuing two who fell into the water, and getting them needed medical care.
When the credits role, we see photos from the actual rescue. We also see a Sully himself in a short video greeting the survivors during a reunion, the reconstructed plane in the background. As splendid as Hanks is in the role, there’s nothing like seeing the hero himself embracing the people he saved with his experience and skill.
The Miracle on the Hudson remains one of New York City’s finest moments. During a time when we desperately need heroes, Sully reminds us that they walk among us.
Sully opens nationwide September 9, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.