As those of you who know me can attest, I am a HUGE movie fan. So, I thought I would start posting reviews of movies I've seen lately. Starting last year, I stopped reading critics' reviews. I wondered if they didn't predispose me to like or dislike a movie. Plus I figured that I am at least as capable of forming an opinion as to the worth (or lack thereof) of a given movie and then articulating that opinion.
This holiday weekend I saw National Treasure starring Nicholas Cage (The Rock, Con-Air), Diane Kruger (Troy), Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Patriot Games), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home) and directed by Jon Turtletaub (While You Were Sleeping).
I'll be the first to admit that my expectations for this movie were very low. From watching the trailers, I assumed this was another big budget Hollywood monstrosity, long on effects and short on dialogue. I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.
While the movie is an action flick, it doesn't commit the two cardinal sins of action movies. First, it doesn't try to wring suspense out of each and every frame. For awhile in the 1990s it seemed as if Hollywood had adopted a philosophy that if one or two cliffhangers were good in a movie, then why not 17? Examples of this phenomenon are the Cage vehicle Con-Air, and Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One. It seemed as if Hollywood had collectively forgotten that in order to create suspense, you need to give the audience a breather. So, I was relieved that while, yes, there are suspenseful moments, there aren't too many of them.
Second, Treasure doesn't rely on special effects at the expense of a solid script and a decent story. Cage plays treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates. As a boy, Ben is told by his grandfather (Plummer) of a mythical treasure. Grandpa Gates enthralls young Ben with a story of King Solomon's gold, discovered by crusading knights in the Middle Ages. The treasure consists not only of priceless gems, jewels and objets d'art, but scrolls and volumes from the lost Library of Alexandria.
The knights decide that the treasure is too valuable for any one man to possess. So they form the order of the Knights Templar to guard it. Later (presumably to escape upheaval in Europe), the treasure is transported to the colonies where it comes under the protection of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The last of the guardians dies before he can pass on the one remaining clue as to the treasure's whereabouts to President Andrew Jackson. With his last breath, he passes on the clue to his coachman - Gates' ancestor. The men of the Gates family have spent the intervening years in a fruitless search for the horde. I won't summarize the rest of the movie since I don't want to give anything away. Suffice to say most of the movie is Gates deciphering the clues and searching for the treasure, one step ahead of bad guy Ian Howe (Bean), Gates' former patron and partner in his quest.
Along the way, Gates is joined by Dr. Abigail Chase (Kruger), a curator from the National Archives. Chase also doubles as Gates' love interest. I was glad that the romantic subplot didn't overshadow the main narrative. Also assisting Gates is his research assistant, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). Poole is a wise-cracking slacker cum computer genius. Normally, I'm not that fond of these kind of archetypes, but Bartha gave an enjoyable performance. Judging from the reaction of the audience, I think most of us agreed. His lines drew the most laughs.
Again, I don't want to give too much away. For what it's worth, I found the movie to be just the right mix of action, humor, mystery, romance and suspense.
Let me know what you think!