National Treasure

Indy without the hat, or the fun, or the flair.

Released in 2004, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 31 Dec 2004 by Scott Morris
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The Gates family. Treasure hunters with little success. Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is the latest iteration of the line, trying to decode the clues leading to an unimaginable treasure hoarded by the Knights Templar handed down since those uppity Yanks threw off the loving yoke of British imperialism. Despite some convincing nay saying from his father Patrick (Jon Voight), Ben's actually meeting with some success thanks in part to his financial backer Ian Howe (Sean Bean) and computer expert / comedy sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha).

Things would seem to be going swimmingly until Howe pulls a rope-a-dope on Gates, leaving Riley and Ben for dead in arctic conditions after uncovering another clue that sets them on a path that requires drastic action - stealing the Declaration of Independence on the basis there's a treasure map ciphered in there somewhere. This intertwines the fate of Dr. Abigail Chase with Gates' crazy plan to preemptively steal said document before the significantly less scrupulous Howe gets his hands on it, presumably to wrap his fish and chips in.

Seeing as Abigail wouldn't want such an important document to get all greasy either she joins the gang to figure out and hunt down these clues that lead them across America, desperately trying to remain a step ahead of Howe. Factor in the Feds noticing that the Declaration's gone on walkabouts and sending a team headed by Sadusky (Harvey Keitel, in a role so generic it's puzzling as to why they ponied up the dough to get a 'name' actor in) to hunt down Gates and there ought to be ample opportunities for adrenaline infused chases and set-pieces.

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Our survey says - Eeeh Ehh. It's not that National Treasure is a bad film as such. It's a resoundingly and consistently mediocre one. In the precious few days it's been between watching said movie and being bothered to write about it, the actual details of this have sort of faded away into the background leaving only the broad outlines. Hardly the mark of an enduring classic.

Not that it's setting out its stall as such, mind you. It's escapist nonsense at heart, but for the most part the fun has escaped and what remains is overwhelmed by the nonsense. Let us forgo the plot holes and assorted oddities, although I'm not sure that not being supposed to think about it is a valid excuse, and tumble straight into a cackhanded attempt at working out what went wrong.

Having Sean Bean as your lead bad guy doesn't help. For some reason I still like Sean Bean, though I suspect it's residual guilt for continually killing his digital representation in the N64 Goldeneye on the first level before he's officially turned evil. 'For England, James?' indeed. Anyhow, Ian Howe has all the menace and presence of a strawberry Chewit which I'll attribute to the poor choice of villainous name. If you're going to use the current prevalent stereotype of English accents being shorthand for prevailing evil then I feel he should at least have been a Count, or preferably a Baron. And have a fine moustache to twirl. And a pet cat. An evil pet cat.

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The point of this waffle, if such a beast exists, is to say that there's no significant screen presence for our hero to play against. You won't find a bad word against Nic Cage in this neck of the woods but this is about as poor a role as he's picked. Ben Gates is pretty much the embodiment of the diet action movies Hollywood is churning out these days, largely derivative and incapable of raising pulses beyond mild interest. Mainstream action flicks seem to have switched from High Octane to Lead Replacement sometime over the last few years, perhaps in response to world events, perhaps not. Anyhow, at least National Treasure steers clear of grafting a social conscious on the narrative in favour of 'merely' trying to provide a suitably diverting waste of time.

Which it provides, mostly. It quickly settles into an easy going chase scene / moment of analysis / chase scene rhythm that stops time from dragging, but it's not doing anything you've not seen umpteen times before which makes it difficult to particularly care about what's going on in more than an abstract sense. You're not going to care or think about the Gates family after the credits role, and in most cases you'll be hard pushed to remember them.

If you're looking for an Indiana Jones for the next generation you're not going to get it here, in fact there doesn't seem to be much to get from National Treasure at all. Its colossal success Stateside leaves me somewhat baffled, perhaps they got a different cut from us in Blighty with an added bunch of exhilarating gunfights and innovative bullet-time tobogganing sequences. Anyhow, as it stands I'm not going to get too worked up about this because it isn't that bad a movie, but by this point in cinema's evolution there's at least a few thousand flicks more worthy of your attention than this which ought to be higher up your pecking order.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Jon Turteltaub
Cast list:
Nicolas Cage (Ben Gates)
Diane Kruger (Abigail Chase)
Justin Bartha (Riley Poole)
Sean Bean (Ian Howe)
Jon Voight (Patrick Gates)
Harvey Keitel (Sadusky)
Christopher Plummer (John Adams Gates)
David Dayan Fisher (Shaw)
Stewart Finlay-McLennan (Powell)
Oleg Taktarov (Shippen)