Thursday, January 24, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” PG Action/Adventure
Benjamin Franklin Gates reunites his scattered treasure-hunting team, Riley Poole(Justin Barth) a wanna-be celebrity author with financial problems, ex-girlfriend Abigail(Diane Krueger) and his father Patrick (Jon Voight) for another fast-paced historical adventure with looming disaster if the treasure isn’t found. National Treasure has developed into a blockbuster movie serial, a la Indiana Jones, or Spider Man whose focus is on US History. The stellar cast rescues the flick from mediocrity, as Helen Mirren joins the cast as Jon Voight’s estranged ex-wife to join the quest. A fun family adventure, the film delivers on its promise of back to back clues, impossible break-ins, and a tantalizing Book of Secrets for the President’s eyes only.

The action begins in the midst of celebrations of the end of the Civil War, where Confederate conspirator Jeb Wilkinson meets with Thomas Gates, to have him to decode codes leading to the lost City of Gold. The Confederates hope to recover the gold and continue to fight the Civil War. Thomas, refusing to help them, tears the page out of the diary containing the codes, for which Jeb shoots him in front of his young son, Charlie. Thomas, mortally wounded. attempts to destroy the codes, throwing the page into the fire. Jeb Wilkinson was part of the conspiracy with John Wilkes Booth, whom we see assassinate President Lincoln moments later.

Back in the 21st century, Thomas’ great-grandson Patrick and his son Ben Gates are giving a presentation on the very diary whose code page Thomas tried to destroy. Suddenly, from the back of the room, Mitch Wilkinson(Ed Harris) ancestor of Jeb, announces in a dramatic Southern drawl, that he has the missing diary page, rescued from the fire, and it proves that Thomas Gates was a co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln. Father and son are incredulous, but the diary page is a perfect fit, and seems to incriminate their ancestor. Ben springs into action to inspect the diary page, and clear the Gates’ family name. He must find out why Thomas Gate’s name is in that diary.

The pace of the film shifts to high gear, as the trio pursue leads to Paris, London, and back to the USA, all the while they are pursued by Wilkinson. Edge-of-your seat car chases, creative burglary including Buckingham Palace and the White House, kidnapping of the President of the United States, convincingly played by Bruce Greenwood, and a series of enticing clues, keep the audience involved through the first two thirds of the film.

In order to decipher the Olmec code they discover in their raid of the Houses of Power, Ben seeks out his mother, Emily Appleton, (a smoldering Helen Mirren) a college professor, dragging his father along into a tense reunion after 32 years. The couple provide comic relief and romantic interest as they pick up arguments and chemistry where they left off 32 years ago. Ben Gates’ friend FBI agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) alternates between revealing the truth about the Book of Secrets and pursuing them with the full forces of the FBI, to lead to a climactic chase to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Most of the historical details are skillfully woven into the fabric of the film, but the location of the Pre-Columban Mexican City of Gold in South Dakota is ludicrous, which for me, deadened the impact of the film’s conclusion.

The teenagers who packed the theatre seemed more interested in special effects and action than history, however, and the danger of them confusing the true history with the false won’t be as big a problem as their history teachers fear.

Solid performances by some of my favorite veteran actors Mirren, Voight and Harris provide something for the adults to enjoy.

PG is for violence, and brief sexual innuendo. Some positive treatment of American presidents and institutions, and the rewards of forgiveness between Patrick and Emily, though the protagonists Ben and Abigail are portrayed living together without marriage.
Recommended for older children and up.

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