Review: National Treasure

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  November 19, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Ever since he was a little boy, Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) has been fascinated with the myth of a hidden treasure buried hundreds of years earlier by some of the most important figures in American History. As the legend tells, the Knights Templar " a secret society " acquired a number of ancient artifacts and gold, and smuggled it from Europe into the United States where it became the property of the Free Masons. For many years, members of the Gates family have been searching for the treasure by using exact but almost indecipherable codes that have led anywhere but the actual treasure. One day, on a mission to find "The Charlotte", Ben and his partner and benefactor Ian Howe (Sean Bean) locate what they believe to be the final clue. The only problem is it's located on the back of the Declaration of Independence, a seemingly impossible document to get a hold of. Ben and Ian disagree and an argument occurs, which leads Ian to strike on his own destined to get his hands on the map at any cost, including stealing it from its protected vault in Washington. Ben decides to warn the authorities, but when he's laughed at by Homeland Security, the FBI, and Abigail Chase (Diane Krueger) " an archivist at the facility it's being held " he is left with no other choice than to steal the document himself. While he does get away with the heist, things don't entirely end up as planned as Ian, as well as the FBI, are hot on his tail. In addition, he has to contend with Abigail, whose last-minute interruption causes additional grief for him and his tech-savvy sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha). From here, the clues take them from Washington to Philadelphia and eventually New York, as Ben tries to prove his father wrong and that there is indeed a treasure of national importance and significance.

National Treasure is the latest in a long line of high-octane action films from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a man who for the most part always delivers pretty much what his many fans expect, and that's a consistently engaging piece of entertainment. Be it one of his numerous feature films or his television properties " which consist of the megahits CSI and The Amazing Race " you know just exactly what you're getting when you go into a Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle. With National Treasure, he doesn't disappoint. Sure, the film has many logistical flaws, some laughably bad dialogue, and follows a very generic screenplay template, but there's no debating that for the better part of the 132 minutes it's a fun if not overly realistic thrill ride. Directed by John Turteltaub off a screenplay by Cormac and Marianne Wibberlay " whose previous credits include Bad Boys II and the Charlie's Angels sequel Full Throttle, two films which were also lacking in the screenplay area " it doesn't really matter who the director and writer of the film are because it's inconsequential with Bruckheimer having his stamp on every aspect of the movie. There's no questioning who has control over the film, and it shows. The story concept is pretty basic, with Ben being sort of a modern Indiana Jones who goes on a cross-country journey similar to that of the Amazing Race on a quest for a treasure that may or may not exist. Borrowing a bit from the forensic elements of CSI, there's a lot of smart clues that, while supported by humanly impossible tasks, are actually engaging and interesting for viewers to follow. Turteltaub's direction is adequate and despite the odd minor hiccups, manages to keep things moving at a good pace. The Wibberlays' screenplay has its fair share of logistical flaws, which on initial viewing are obvious, and it falls apart the more you think about the on-screen events. However, one has to remember that this is an action adventure movie, and by definition there always are logistical errors and laughable dialogue. Simply put, they are delivering what is to be expected from this genre. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not a great screenplay and it does try to be a bit smarter than it is, but you can't really fault them for that.

It's hard to believe that Nicholas Cage is an Oscar winner because his performance in just about every other film since Leaving Las Vegas has been adequate or marginal at best. Simply put, he's not the best actor on the planet and his personality is somewhat annoying. He's one of those actors that you either love or hate. I don't mind the guy though, but that's not to say he hasn't annoyed me in a film before. Cage, a Bruckheimer veteran, has the leading role here and does a good job as sort of an everyday, geeky adventure hero. It's a variation on the roles he played in The Rock and Con Air (both past Bruckheimer films), but his Ben Gates is someone you can get behind, which is so important when the screenplay and situations surrounding him are ludicrously over the top. Playing opposite him is Sean Bean, who gives us the atypical Sean Bean villain performance. There's no difference between his character in Goldeneye and the one he plays here. If you see Sean Bean's name on the poster for an action film, you're pretty much assured just which character he'll be playing. Diane Krueger, who made minor splashes in the overly long and decidedly flat epic Troy and the underrated but flawed Wicker Park, has the generic love interest role. Nothing too impressive from her here. Harvey Keitel, John Voight, and Christopher Plummer are all wasted in small cameo-type roles. The real find in the film is Justin Bartha, whose only other notable credit is Gigli. He adds a lot of comic relief as the tech-savvy sidekick taken away from his computer and thrown into real life situations. Someone from that film other than Affleck might just find work after all.

At the end of the day, National Treasure isn't the best film available this holiday season. Hell, it's not even of the better Bruckheimer films out there. It's not in the same league as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Rock, Con Air, or even Armageddon. Still, it does succeed in entertaining audiences for 132 minutes, which is more than a lot of films can say. The basic plot is strong, some of the details are a tad ludicrous, and some of the execution is far from perfect. Certainly not an Oscar-calibre film, but for those who want to check their minds at the door and enjoy themselves, they could do a lot worse than National Treasure.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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