Take the Lead

Rock (Rob Brown) a school student, smashes the car of school principal Augstine James (Alfre Woodard), leading to a chance meeting that will change his life.  The only eyewitness to this vandalism is Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), a dance instructor who plans on telling Augstine what happened.  After meeting the principal, he discovers that Rock is one of a bunch of students who are permanently in detention.  He asks Augstine if he can take over the detention class, with the view to instruct them on the art of ballroom dancing.  Pierre hopes that this will educate them to focus their lives in a more positive way, and to win a Ballroom championship that is coming up.  Urban warfare, suspicion, and teenage angst all create a headache for Pierre that make him think he has taken on more than he can handle.

The 1955 film ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ was among the first of a sub-genre of films featuring inspirational teachers.  The films that followed copied the formula of the teacher who imparts life lessons to unruly students in the hope that they’ll change for the better.  These types of films have generally been very successful, hence their continued cinematic presence, due to their easy adaptability to current attitudes.  ‘Take the Lead’ is no exception, and follows the blueprint to the letter. 

Antonio Banderas provides the film with it’s emotional centre and gives it all he has.  Pierre is one such teacher that can see the potential of the people in his care, and feels that by teaching them ballroom dancing that they can learn trust and respect among other things.  Banderas injects plenty of fire and energy into the role, with the film relying heavily on his ‘Spanish heartthrob’ personae.  The unknown core cast playing the students provide plenty of enthusiasm, which make up for their average performances.  Alfre Woodard as the school principal does well in an underwritten role, and shows the audience what a good actress she has always been.

Generally this is a very clichéd effort with plot holes large enough for a tango to be danced through.  The basic premise of the film seems far fetched, although it does bear the ‘inspired by a true story’ moniker at the beginning.  Banderas does his best to freshen things up, but even he cannot completely save a film whose formula is starting to run out.  However, the dance sequences and music are excellent, with everyone enjoying themselves immensely.  The fusion of hip hop and old ballroom numbers is quite well done, and doesn’t detract from the messages the film attempts to make.

‘Take the Lead’ is a very undemanding film trying to impart its own wisdom on the audience.  Some of the acting and by the numbers screenplay exposes the limitations of the story, with the whole enterprise falling short.  Only the natural charisma of Banderas and the dancing make the film a slightly above average effort. 

Rating out of 10:  5

The Da Vinci Code

When the curator of France’s Louve museum is mysteriously murdered, symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is asked to assist in the police investigation. He meets Police Captain Fache (Jean Reno) who shows him the dead man’s body. Onto the scene comes Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) a police cryptologist who warns Langdon to be careful of Fache as he may be involved in a conspiracy that involves the coveted Holy Grail. On the run from Fache, they both seek the help of one of Langdon’s friends Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), another famed symboligist. Following is albino monk Silas (Paul Bettany), who will stop at nothing to find the Holy Grail and will stop anyone in his way. Lies, truth and myths all come together, for the one who discovers the Grail will become the one who holds the key which could destroy modern religion.
By now almost everyone seems to have read the Dan Brown book on which this film is based. The book was a fast paced thriller with a smattering of myth and historical truth, which appealed to the broadest of readers. The director of this film, Ron Howard, is himself no stranger at aiming for the general audience, so the film would seemingly present a marriage of commercial convenience for both men. However whilst the book was an interesting thrill-ride, this film isn’t and suffers a few problems that a director of Howard’s experience should have rectified.
Among these is the casting of Tom Hanks. Hanks is too old for the role and doesn’t project any believability, which is crucial. At times his character appears lost and spends most of the film in bemused wonder. A younger Harrison Ford type would have been perfect. Whilst the casting of the lead was a let down, the rest of the cast do a fine job and are well suited for their roles. Standouts among these are Paul Bettany, who injects a shadowy menace as Silas, but also making him a sympathetic person who is just following what he believes. Ian McKellen chews the scenery in his usual manner and livens up an otherwise long winded film.
Ron Howard has always gone for the ’safe option’ in Hollywood and knows how to play the movie making game. However, in adapting the book he seems to have forgotten that the novel itself wasn’t all dour and serious, and had a few humorous moments as well. The earnestness of the whole enterprise makes the already long running time seem never-ending, with events plodding along until the drawn-out conclusion. The motivations of the characters are never quite made clear, and each revelation seems to be an afterthought, rather than the shocking surprise that it should be.
There are some good moments, such as the historical flashbacks, with the location shooting adding considerably to the feel of the film. The screenplay tries to grapple with the religious and mythological concepts of the book, but only partially succeeds. Had the film been made into a mini series, then it could have made more sense, and expanded the rich historical background and characterisation that’s missing here. The director has only achieved turning an exciting novel into an overlong boring yarn.
Rating out of 10: 5
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