starring Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, John Voight, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Mark Pellegrino and Christopher Plummer
written by Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley
directed by Jon Turteltaub
This movie got terrible reviews in the papers that I read, but I kind of enjoyed it, like a fun house ride at an amusement park, even though it is completely ridiculous and ripe with logical holes and inconsistencies that begs the disdain of discerning minds. As the title suggests, it is a treasure-hunting story, and it is done in the same vein as other recent fun and adventurous treasure-hunting movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, The 9thGate, The Mummy, Cutthroat Island, and The Da Vinci Code (in production and scheduled for release in theaters next year).
The script is based on a story by Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv and Charles Segars. It mixes up fantastical information about the medieval Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the ancient Jewish temple of Solomon into a conspiracy story. I don’t much like conspiracy theories, or stories about conspiracy theories because the first obvious - and, I think, fatal - flaw in them is that they overestimate the ability of human beings to keep secrets. People are so vain that we do not like/want to keep secrets, so we don’t - not very well, or not for very long at least. However, today’s audiences tend to be so ill-informed, so filled with misinformation, and so lacking in critical thinking skills that your average person is not equipped to spot nonsense and fiction is regularly confused with fact. (Witness: the overwhelming - and completely false - belief by a majority of Americans two-and-a-half years ago that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was harboring terrorists. Witness: surveys indicate that the majority of adult visitors to New York City’s Museum of Natural Historywrongly believe that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. The list is similar follies is quite long.) Oh, well.
Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) belongs to a family infamous among scholars for its multi-generation, obsessive prosecution of a theory of a Freemason treasure smuggled into pre-revolutionary America and hidden there. Many of the American founding fathers were Freemasons, and U.S.currency - especially the one dollar bill - is famous for featuring several distinct Freemason symbols, such as the all-seeing eye above the pyramid. Like all conspiracy theories, rather than solutions and answers there is just one clue leading to another clue, and then another, and so on. Rooms are never simple room. They always have hidden annexes or basements or attics, and multiple entrances/exits, etc. Instead of saying “The treasure is here. Go to this place,” treasure maps and clues play a seemingly endless game of tease.
In this story, the final clue for the location of the treasure is in the form of an invisible inscription (a treasure map) on the reverse side of the heavily-guarded original copy of the Declaration of Independence (1776). His patriotism leads him to steal the document in order to protect it from rival treasure-hunters, lead by Ian Howe (Sean Bean). British people, or people with British accents, make for great villains. I don’t know why. That is the case with Sean Bean (“Boromir” from the first of Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring). Ian Howe leads an all-British crew of aggressive, violent treasure hunters - the bad guys.
There is a lot of comedic moments in the film, which is almost inevitable with any Nicolas Cage film because of Cage’s acting style - his voice and delivery, his mannerisms and body language. But Ben’s computer geek assistant Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is the best source of odd comedy here. His best moment came, I think, in the final scenes when he hugs an ancient pharonic statue, “It’s a big, bluish-green man with a strange looking goatee. I’m guessing that’s significant.” He is a genius with a computer, but otherwise he doesn’t have a clue - about anything.
One excellent feature of the film is that it takes us to many real historical places - the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Independence Hall and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, etc.