It takes a little while to get into it, especially at it’s just over two hours length (whew!), but once National Treasure: Book of Secrets starts chugging along it’s easy to over look the dopiness and enjoy the film. Again Ben Gates is off on a family matter. This time to clear his great, great Grandfather’s name from a charge that he helped assassinate Abraham Lincoln so that the confederates could have a chance at winning the Civil War. That or his great, great blah blah was tricked into helping the confederates find a lost city of gold to help them fund their cause, which his great blah blah had unknowingly deciphered a cypher for them but when he found out about Lincoln gave his own life to stop them from finding the lost city. Now in order to clear his great blah blah’s name Ben has to find the treasure himself. Well not just by himself, again he has his Father, Patrick Gates (Jon Vogt), his girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), his “assistant” (Justin Bartha) and this time his Mother Emily Appleton (Hellen Mirren). They all have such awesome names, don’t they? Together they must find the lost city before Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) finds it for himself. But what is Mitch playing at exactly? We don’t find out until some absurd revelations towards the end that paint him out to be not as bad or as good as he should be, making him the least interesting character of the bunch. Since he’s not a character, Wilkinson acts mainly as an instigator for Ben and his crew to go searching for this city of gold. But Harris makes it as believable as he can. It is sad however to see Harvey Keitel relegated to such a thankless role, his police man always a step behind Gates.
On the way they run into a lot of obstacles and have to figure out clues. And it’s the puzzles and traps and spelunking that follow the clues that makes this movie as enjoyable as it ends up being. When a desk can be turned into a puzzle box, you know you’re in for at least some treats. Moments throughout are really quite inventive. The best sequence involves Ben Gates “kidnapping” the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood – the interviewer in I’m Not There.) You can see Ben’s passion for exploring winning over the President, and in doing so winning us over. Greenwood plays the President as the kind of President I want leading this country. The other memorable moment is when Ben starts a fight with Abigail and the conversation afterwards…”When did you start realizing it was a real fight again?” Clever dialogue like this does not go unnoticed by my ears. And makes some of the more obvious, let me describe what we need to do right now dialogue that sneaks into Bruckheimer films sometimes.
Other than that the main reason, another reason why this works is that you can tell everyone knows what kind of movie this is and they’re all enjoying it. They all say their lines with just enough passion and treat the peril with just enough seriousness that everything plays pretty well, no matter how absurd the situations they find themselves in get. Or how much luck plays in the role of getting out of each situation. And heck, the characters are intelligent and likable. There aren’t a lot of movies out where characters are as likable as they are here, and again the exceptional cast plays a big part in making them so likable, making it a lot easier for us to root them on. It’s like everyone is in a Frank Capra adventure movie. Especially Jon Vogt and Hellen Mirren, two veterans who remain at the top of their game. They find time to sneer at each other and laugh. You feel Mirren’s gaze and understand Vogt’s reaction. I would love to see these two in a movie together – er a different movie.
The great thing about this is that it allows us to consider the importance of our history and heritage, both personal and as a country. Two things not taken lightly by Ben Gates and his Father and because of their passion I felt a little tug of appreciation for my ancestors and the family members that have tracked my family tree (I’m somehow related to King Charlemagne of France…pretty cool if I do say so myself.) It’s also just cool to think that history has had an impact on who we are and how we live, things we don’t even know about or take for granted, even if the cover ups presented in the film go way beyond anything real. Though how real I do not know. A Secret President’s Book?
Conspiracy theories and actual history and a willingness to over look our worst mistakes or to make them look better has fuzzed up some of our own history. Why doesn’t anyone talk about the camps during World War II when we kept Japanese citizens imprisoned, an embarrassment we should have learned from, but it doesn’t seem like we have from the way things are going now with our treatment of American Muslims – or anyone from the Middle East. There are great consequences I think when a person fudges their history to find victory in the present. Just ask Mitch Wilkinson.
Tags: Adventure Film, Cinema, Diane Kruger, Ed Harris, Film, Harvey Keitel, Hellen Mirren, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub, Jon Vogt, Movie, Movie Reviews, National Treasure Book of Secrets, Nicholas Cage