Friday, August 19, 2005

It Came from the Libary! National Treasure

I doubt I have anything fresh to say about such a mainstream movie. That never stopped me before, though.

On release, National Treasure was compared by many to The Da Vinci Code. However, I didn’t read that book, so I’ll compare it to the long-running Rambaldi plot-line running through the various seasons of the TV show Alias. As in that program, National Treasure features a dose of (here benign) conspiracy theorizing involving none other than American’s Founding Fathers. A vast treasure has been hidden since the days of the Knights Templar, and down through the Masons, and Nicolas Cage continues his family’s generations long quest to follow a series of baroque clues to find it.

Of course, a Bad Guy (Sean Bean) is after the treasure too. After both he and Cage learn that there’s a clue to be found on the back of the Declaration of Independence (!!), Cage determines to steal the document before Bean does, both to protect the treasure and the Declaration itself.

Needless to say, this is all very Indiana Jones-esque, but the emphasis on American history is rather fun. Oddly, Jon Voight plays Cage’s father, just as he plays that of Lara Croft in that pair of films. (Which, I must admit, I have not seen.) Apparently he means to corner the market on siring updated Jones-influenced characters.

While the film is by no means a classic, I was surprised at how much I liked it. First, although there’s a lot of peril in the movie, I only remember one death. Bean and his crew are ruthless, but don't kill out of hand like so many modern film villains. Of course, it helps that his crew of crack mercenaries at all such bad shots in the numerous instances when they are trying to whack the good guys.

Given the track record of Jerry Bruckheimer/Nicolas Cage movies (including the execrable Con Air), the film is not only surprisingly low on carnage, but amazingly non-stupid. I’m sure you could pick it apart if you wanted to, but a good film carries you past the rough spots, and for me this one did the job. Meanwhile, the direction by John Turteltaub is lively without descending into that headache inducing MTV-style editing. For a film running over two hours, it carries its bulk well.

In all, it's a movie that actually uses the vast resources at hand to craft an intentionally lightweight but still well-put together picture. The budget allows the film to be big without being tiresomely mammoth like so many such pictures these days. Moreover, the director was able to assemble the sort of cast that only a studio film can field: Cage, Bean, Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer, etc. Not superstars, per se, but good actors who may be slumming just a bit (especially Keitel), but so what? Surely they deserve a lark now and then, too?

Most enjoyable, perhaps, was watching a film about people who think that history (especially American history!) is important and even fascinating. That Cage’s faith in the Founding Fathers proves well justified was a welcome outcome.


At 12:06 PM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

I like this movie too, for the same reasons you do. It's pretty silly, and I imagine it's a terrible history lesson, but it moves quickly, has some agreeable performances, and is "family friendly" without being juvenile or condescending. It's a very old-fashioned adventure movie and a breath of fresh air.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger culfy said...

It also has a brilliant heist sequence; which achieves what Ocean's Twelve failed to do.

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Jay said...

This was probably the first movie where I actually liked the sidekick & couldn't stand the hero. I had a hard time believing that Cage was some kind of super-sleuth (not being a Nicholas Cage fan probably didn't help any). But, as the comment above said, it was "family friendly", which is a nice change of pace for action movies.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I have to admit, when I saw the "From the Producers of Pirates of the Caribbean" on the box, I was like, "Well, that's a stretch."

However, when I thought about it, both were fun, well-mounted adventure films (and really, that's the key; they are adventure films rather than action films) that you could actually watch with your kids or grandparents.

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous tam1MI said...

I had a hard time believing that Cage was some kind of super-sleuth

I don't think he was supposed to be a super-sleuth. The vibe I got off from him the entire movie was "avid history geek". He conducted his search not only because he wanted to find the fabulous treasure, but also because he genuinely thought all the old stuff and odd facts he discovered were just genuinely cool.

Nothing in the movie conveyed this more than (my personal favorite scene) where he unrolls the Declaration in Liberty Hall, pauses for a moment, than says, awestruck: "The last time this was here... it was being signed."


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