The scene starts with a crowded street. It's April 1865. Two men meet, chat, and separate. One heads to the stage entrance of a theater, where he is recognized. The other man goes to a tavern. There he meets Thomas Gates who is known for his ability to solve ciphers. While he works on the cipher, President Lincoln is shot by the man in the theater--John Wilkes Booth.
Word of President Lincoln's assassination spreads quickly. Thomas Gates solves the cipher and realizes that the man he is solving it for is a Knight of the Golden Circle--an organization dedicated to a Confederate Victory. When Gates' young son rushes in with the news of assassination, Gates tears several pages out and attempts to burn them. The Knight manages to grab a partially burnt page from the hearth and flees. Gates grabs his son and tells him, "The debt all men must pay."
The next scene is a college lecture hall. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) have just presented a lecture about their ancestor, Thomas Gates, and the Booth diary when they are challenged by a member of the audience. Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has one of the missing pages. Thomas Gates is listed along with other members of the conspiracy. Could Thomas Gates have been the leader of the plot to kill Lincoln?
Ben and Patrick do not believe this and Ben is determined to clear his great-grandfather's name. But he can't do it alone. He needs Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and his expertise. Riley, who is having serious financial problems, is more than happy to go along. However, Ben also needs some information from his house. The problem is that he and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) are splitting up and it's not amicable. (No, they're not married.) Ben and Riley break in and surprise Abigail who figures out that the boys are on another treasure hunt.
Riley solves the cipher and they're off to Europe. And then--hang on to your hats because the chase is on.
The pace is quick so there is no time to mull over implausibilities or historical inaccuracies. I felt like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland--just along for the ride. And it's a marvelous ride! Wilkinson is on their tails and they have to elude him. They find one clue and the only person in the whole world who can translate it is Ben's mother, Patrick's ex-wife, Emily Appelton (Helen Mirren). When Patrick and Emily meet after 31 years of not speaking to each other, they take up their argument where they left off. It's a great scene mostly because of Mr. Voight and Ms. Mirren.
The clue leads to a special book--a Book of Secrets--whose existence has only been a rumor and the stuff of conspiracy buffs. And, yes, Ben has to find it. And it won't be easy. Or safe. And we do get to see more of Ms. Mirren (in a good way!).
I was captivated until the very end when I had a problem with where the treasure was. Apparently I was the only one: Hubs and DD#2 thought it was just fine. (As DD#2 keeps telling me, "Mom, it's a MOVIE.") And, except for that one point, the resolution was solid, with one loose end that may indicate there will be a third movie.
The caliber of the actors is impressive, even for the relatively minor roles (Harvey Keitel is back in his role as FBI Agent Sadusky). The location shots are stunning. And if this inspires a few kids to pick up a history book, so much the better.
I do wish that Ben and Abigail would get married, though. Patrick wants them back together but does not suggest marriage. Patrick and Emily are divorced and the reasons for their divorce are discussed--turns out it was a lack of communication rather than infidelity. There is a lot of shooting and mayhem and a lot of shouting, which may bother young children. But on the whole, this is truly a movie for the whole family. Disney does it again!
Added Bonus: Before National Treasure began, we were treated to an original cartoon, just like the good old days. This cartoon was in the classic "How To" genre that Goofy seems specially suited to: "How to Set Up Your Home Theater System." Watch for Walt Disney's picture and other "inside" jokes that Disney cartoonists are noted for. If you've ever bought a TV from an electronics store, you'll appreciate this cartoon!
Like the Pixar shorts, bringing back the cartoon before the feature is something I hope Disney continues to do!
On the March Hare Scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets
crossposted on The Mad Tea Party