Embedded within the manic action of “Inferno,” the latest big-screen adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller, is a warning about the dangers of seeking simple solutions to complex problems. Star Tom Hanks says it’s a theme with echoes in the current U.S. presidential race.
“Inferno” sets Hank’s polymathic professor Robert Langdon on the trail of a deadly plague concocted by billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (played by Ben Foster) out of a sort of warped humanitarianism: He plans to end war, poverty and famine by wiping out half the world’s population.
No easy answers
Hanks says the belief that there’s a “one-step answer to all problems” is alarmingly relevant.
“Down through history there’s been an awful lot of people who say: Here’s what the problem is, here’s what it was caused by, and all you have to do is my suggestion, there’s an easy way in order to make it go away,” Hanks said.
“It’s very simplistic, it’s very reactionary. It’s almost like a fundamental embracing of a brand of ignorance,” he added. “But I think it’s part of the political discourse.”
Hanks clearly has the contest between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in mind.
America, he says, needs “vision and leadership and scope, as opposed to one-stop shopping fixes all.”
“I’m not a political activist, nor am I a political animal, but I will say: Look, I’m going to vote for her, because I think this is a marathon in order to solve not just the most obvious problems, but the ones that are coming down the pipe.”
Medieval, modern mix
Political discussion over, Hanks happily reverts to talking about Dan Brown’s mega-successful mix of medieval conspiracies and modern-day skullduggery.
In his third screen outing as Langdon, Hanks is sent on a high-stakes treasure hunt centered around the life and works of Dante Alighieri, whose “Divine Comedy” created a teeming vision of hell that has influenced artists and writers for 700 years.
He’s joined by Felicity Jones’ brainy medic, Dr. Sienna Brooks, as an ally and intellectual sparring partner.
Hanks, who played Langdon in “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” — both directed by Ron Howard, as is “Inferno” — says he still finds pleasure in making the border-hopping thrillers. “Inferno” scurries from Florence to Venice to Istanbul, wreaking havoc in some of the world’s most beautiful historic buildings.
“Making movies is by and large a pretty fun enterprise, except when you have to be cold or up late or wear a fake beard or something,” said Hanks, after more than three decades in the business still the most affable of Hollywood stars.
“But these are rather special. The team has been together since the first one. We get to go to amazing places: London, Paris, Rome, Venice. Which is a lot better than, say, going to Sony Studios in Culver City, California.”
A good caper
For the viewer, the movie offers the pleasures of a good old-fashioned caper, which Hanks likens it to a scavenger hunt, in which the characters must decipher a string of clues in a race against time.
“Time and distance are actually characters in all of these films,” Hanks said over the phone from a rainy Florence, Italy, where the movie had its world premiere.
“We only have so much time and how do you get from Florence to Venice? Turns out the fastest way is the train, so we jump on a train and we actually shoot some of the movie while we’re going from here to there,” he said. “Ends up being one of the advantages of it not being a computer-generated story — these are movies that we shoot in real places.”
For the actor, there’s also the pleasure of absorbing large quantities of information so his character can dispense gobbets of exposition and expertise about everything from Dante’s death mask to the nine circles of hell.
“It makes you a really great dinner companion,” Hanks said.
“For a guy who really only had a couple of years of junior college — and none of it was spent in art history class — I end up learning an awful lot about art history.”
Howard has assembled an international cast that includes Sidse Babett Knudsen (star of Danish political drama “Borgen”) as an ambiguous World Health Organization boss, France’s Omar Sy (“The Intouchables”) as one of her agents, Romania’s Ana Ularu as a mysterious assassin and Indian star Irfan Khan as an amoral international fixer.
Hanks said the diverse cast comes from Howard’s simple desire to fill the movie with interesting actors.
“So more cultures are represented, and both genders, and that just ends up being perfect and organic for our story,” he said.
“Inferno” opens in the U.S. on Oct 28.