Friday, December 03, 2004

National Treasure

by Reymundo Salao
The Guardian, December 3, 2004

When I got to the third level of Robinson’s last Wednesday, I was aghast in pleasant fever to find that almost all of the films being shown this week are must-sees. There’s the long awaited cold war-era novel-adaptation “The Manchurian Candidate” and the sequel of probably the best romantic movie I’ve ever seen (Before Sunrise) “Before Sunset”. Not to mention the Pinoy horror “Pa-Siyam” which has drawn me with a bit of intrigue. And there’s that temptation to watch “The Incredibles” AGAIN. But it has been a while since I watched a good “treasure-hunt-movie” a la Indiana Jones. So I decided to take a trip in search of “National Treasure”.

The story follows the lifelong devotion and obsession of our protagonist Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) in search of a treasure kept secret for centuries by the founding (patriot) fathers of the United States of America and the few of their descendants who have kept that secret, but to unlock that secret and to seek for that treasure that has remained hidden for centuries, is an arduous, seemingly-futile quest. It is a quest that was actually shared by Ben's father and grandfathers as well, but they all failed and gave up, dismissing the existence of the treasure to be a myth, saying that it just leads to clues and more clues, that it leads to nowhere. But Ben firmly believes in the secret and has broken ground making one step ahead by discovering one very important clue. The clue revealing that the map of the treasure is hidden, engraved with invisible ink at the back of the historical Declaration of Independence document. But on his tail after the treasure is his rival ex-partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean). Left without a choice and with a desperate decision, Ben takes that daring step to steal the Declaration of Independence and from that point, his adventure towards finding the Hidden Treasure steams up with action, mystery and intrigue.

The character of Nicholas Cage in this film is his typical "thinking-hero" character, sort of refurbishing the same character he did in his previous film "The Rock". He takes that character one step ahead in a pinch of comedic tone, as his character Ben is believed by many to be a delusional "treasure-myth" geek who hastily and ineffectively tries to convince people of believing his concepts. He does it quite well and is so fit for such performance since Nick Cage really doesn’t shine in macho mouth-shut-action hero roles. More of the clean adventurer-action-hero-type, this kind of hero is best for this kind of wholesome all-out adventure kind of movie. Sean Bean's villain role carries a bit more serious tone than his previous villain roles. The depth of his being a feared villain is done well with his acting even without the aid of violence. The appearance of Christopher Plummer plays well in the storytelling narration of what the treasure myth is all about. Plummer has a voice and a way of speaking that exudes a serious mythical tone; you'd either believe it as fact or dismiss it as fiction. A tone that makes you think twice on the question "Does this treasure really exist?” Diane Kruger as the lovely Abigail Chase, is seen this time with a better acting role than her role as Helen in "Troy" And there's Justin Bartha playing Riley Poole, the hero's sidekick, gives a great addition of humor and life to the story. Jon Voight plays Ben's father who gave up on the myth of the treasure and has lost faith that it ever existed. Film nerds may make a comparison of his role to that of Sean Connery's in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". It was interesting to see Voight play a typical father figure injecting that slight typical father-son tension on one part of the movie. Didn’t he play Lara Croft's father too? Then there's the ever-cool Harvey Keitel as Police Chief Sadusky, who delivers this convincing short speech at the end part of the movie that serves as a sort of epilogue for the film.

More than just a plain adventure movie, National Treasure has subtle elements of being educational and informative. As the story progresses, the characters tend to review details of events in American History. As they do this, some who are familiar with American History would tend to also think along of those details as well. Fortunately, this doesn’t come off in a cheesy manner as to give the film "school-textbook" segments. The informative stuff comes off naturally and appropriately.

What I like about the movie is that it immediately jumps into the action without long character introductions. There was no need of making complicated character-drivers since the characters are not-very-complicated and easy to comprehend in the first place; the visionary hero, the comedic sidekick, the greed-driven villain, the helpful damsel. The hints of romance between cage and Kruger does not lag the movie on the expense of its main storyline. The villains of this movie are non-American, which is simplistically in tone with the whole idea of the movie's semi-patriotic yet obvious un-pronounced undertone that the heroes are trying to stop the foreigner-villains from taking away what belongs to America. But that's beside the point because the thrill and adventure aspect of the film comes first. It is a film honest to itself as being marketed for pure all-around entertainment (especially on this season of holidays). The film is directed by Jon Turteltaub and produced by the big-budget icon Jerry Bruckheimer. Although it does not even attempt to compete with the immortal appeal of Indiana Jones and the femme testosterone of Lara Croft, and though it does not promise some unique new stunt, National Treasure is one adventure that doesn’t miss on giving you that suspenseful thrill of a great treasure-hunt movie, it doesn’t fail to give you that promised mystery-solving intrigue, that beat-per-second chase scenes, and it is very wholesome to all ages. The minimized violence is appropriate for the story without making it look too trying-hard-safe about it. The film appropriately steers the action more into the adventure level. The heroes of this film aren’t really the kind who’d face d bad guys with a fist or gunfight, rather more of your ordinary Joes in a cat-and-mouse race to get to the treasure.

NATIONAL TREASURE is one movie that everybody can enjoy. While most action-adventure movies these days tend to have that exclusively adult content, it is a relief that some action-adventures are family-safe without being tarnished with wimpy factors. This is one movie even you Lola will enjoy. In fact, I saw a lola inside the moviehouse that night.

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