The 400-Word Review: Inferno

By Sean Collier

October 31, 2016

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Among the problems with the lineup of films based on Dan Brown’s puzzle-mystery novels (I guess we’re now calling it the “Robert Langdon series”) is this: The structure is a complete disaster.

They certainly don’t have neat, three-act setups. They only nominally have beginnings, middles and ends. The rhythm goes like this: clue, discovery, clue, discovery, shocking revelation. Repeat eight-to-ten times. Try not to think.

It’s like watching two people embark on scavenger hunt. With way more speeches about Renaissance art.

This time around: Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a hospital only to find that some people want to kill him. Fortunately for any plot development whatsoever, he has amnesia, and can’t figure out what’s going on. A particularly adept nurse (Felicity Jones) whisks him to safety, and an inaugural clue is discovered: a pocket-sized projector that beams a jumbled painting of Dante’s Inferno onto a nearby wall.

There’s a code in the painting, of course, and it relates to an eccentric billionaire (Ben Foster) with some radical ideas about overpopulation. To say much more would be to spoil something, I suppose — although what can be truly spoiled in a film that reveals something every six minutes?


In any case, the absurdity of the endeavor is ratcheted up considerably by the fact that this is a modern mystery; Langdon isn’t decoding long-hidden messages from artists and acolytes of old, he’s following a mystery made by someone in the 21st century ... who just so happens to want to lay a labyrinthine trail of breadcrumbs, solvable only by someone who knows far too much about antiquity.

That’s not to say that Inferno is precisely bad. Its cast is ready-made to hold an audience’s interest; it has been conclusively proven that most human beings will contentedly watch Hanks do literally anything, and Foster remains Hollywood’s go-to figure of understated menace. Jones gives her character much more dignity than screenwriter David Koepp does. And returning director Ron Howard certainly knows how to make a rather bland mystery seem far more compelling than it has any right to be. (Admittedly, some early sequences in which Langdon experiences visions of hell are much more artful and jarring than I anticipated.)

So yes, there is something to Inferno, just not much of it. Like far too many recent action globetrotters, it is entertaining enough as it occurs — and will vanish from our collective consciousness immediately.

My Rating: 6/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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