Movie Review: ‘INFERNO’ – a mystery not worth seeing through


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Rated PG-13, 121 min.
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan KhanOmar Sy and Ben Foster

There is always something rewarding when it comes to finishing a good mystery. Whether it’s reading page after page into the long hours of the night, or working your way through two hours of storytelling only to be thrown a curve at the very end. We enjoy taking a long look to consider our own process of depiction and elimination as we journey through the instances of survival and manipulation the protagonist faces.

The key is to make everything feel as if we are solving a puzzle. There is no puzzle to solve; everything is played out behind the scenes while slowly revealing truths to the audience. However, as truth is revealed to the protagonist, it is a new bit of information we can work with as we anticipate the next reveal. The guessing game is the hook, reeling in the viewer to immerse themselves into the cinematic world.

In the third installment of Robert Langdon movies, INFERNO, we see our inquisitive Professor Langdon (Tom Hanks) thrown into yet another series of clues to help save the world from some diabolical plan to destroy the world. In this instance, it is a bioweapon created by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who named the virus Inferno after Dante’s depiction of Hell.

This instance leaves Langdon at somewhat of a disadvantage after experiencing short-term memory loss. As people are looking for him, he is saved by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). With a new partner to help jog his memory, Langdon needs to put together various clues at different locations to find the virus before it is unleashed upon the world, and solidifying Zobrist’s cause to purify the world in lieu of entire extinction.

Tom Hanks points at things, with co-star Felicity Jones in tow. Courtesy of Columbia PIctures.

Tom Hanks points at things, with co-star Felicity Jones in tow. Courtesy of Columbia PIctures.

As they scurry through Italy in search of the next clue, Langdon and Sienna are pursued by agents of a covert private security group and their head Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), as well as agents of the World Health Organization, led by Bouchard (Omar Sy) and Sinskey (Sidse Knudsen). They all want Langdon to show them where the virus is located, or to just kill him as things go south.

As the puzzle comes into a clearer picture, there are some nice things done to make the pieces interesting. The fault lies in the execution of the reveal of these pieces. One of the worst things that a mystery can do is to oversimplify discovery to make sure the audience is aware of the plot; they dumb down everything. We can see that the map is a layered depiction of Dante’s Inferno but constantly explaining these levels at a fast pace is counterproductive. If you want everything explained as it happens, then the excitement is sacrificed.

Directed by Ron Howard (who has been behind camera for all three Robert Langdon movies), there are questionable choices in post-production that hinder the movie. For one, the score is present in at least 85% of the movie. The only reason to have that so present is because there is concern that the story will be boring. Also, mysteries are supposed to have that slow burn, just melting away at the plot to give reveals their gravity.

The acting is solid for the most part, including a breezy and calculating role by Khan. However, there are so many clichéd pieces on the chessboard, that it would clearly have benefited from going with one main bad guy. Zobrist has a lot of charisma and charm so he’s a solid counter to Langdon’s awkward personality. There’s oversaturation in order to give the appearance of excitement, which is constantly getting killed by the need to overly explain everything. INFERNO is trying to be a redemption against the previous installments but it fails to keep the mystery in the viewer’s grasps.

INFERNO opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 28.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.