Problematic "National Treasure" Still Offers Engaging Story
- 2004 18 Nov
Release Date: November 19, 2004
Rating: PG (for action violence and some scary images)
Run Time: 2 hrs. 11 min.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Actors: Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer
Is it possible that a treasure is buried beneath us, on the very streets we cross, day and night? And could we really be overlooking clues to where that treasure is buried, without realizing it at all? These are the hypotheses behind “National Treasure,” which suffers from cinematic problems but which nonetheless offers an engaging story for people of all ages.
As the descendant of a Revolutionary carriage boy who happened upon a priceless cache of antiques, Nicholas Cage (“Con-Air,” “Gone in 60 Seconds”) plays Ben Gates, “treasure protector.” As the story unfolds, we learn that our nation’s founding fathers, who were members of the fraternal order of the Knights Templar, or Freemasons, were said to have discovered a great treasure buried beneath the temple of King Solomon. They brought it to the New World then devised elaborate clues – like the all-seeing eye in the dollar bill – for someone who might be wise enough to discover it.
Cage has been sworn to secrecy by his grandfather (Christopher Plummer), who also made Ben agree to protect the treasure. Entire generations of Gates have spent their lives looking for it, much to the amusement of academicians, and Ben’s father (John Voight) has given up. But during a trip to the Artic Circle, Ben discovers an antique pipe and information which indicates that a map to the treasure is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Then his benefactor (Sean Bean) turns against him, hoping to keep the treasure for himself, and Ben must steal the Declaration before he does.
This film suffers from some serious difficulties, not the least of which is bad acting, although thankfully not from its star. Cage is good, as he always is, but this unimaginative role requires him to be far too cocksure, which can be annoying during the two-hour-plus film. His techno-geek buddy (Justin Bartha, “Gigli”) also suffers from a role with far too little creativity, but nevertheless manages a few laughs. Diane Krueger (“Troy”) as the requisite love interest, is not only boring but wholly unbelievable as the National Archives conservator who has way too much power for someone barely old enough to graduate from college, much less have already obtained her Ph.D. and years of stature. Her lack of chemistry with Cage makes her part entirely disposable. Too bad it wasn’t. Harvey Keitel and Jon Voight are also disappointing, while Bean and his crew sleepwalk through their roles.
There are large holes in the plot, which also has too many climaxes to count, and the dialogue has a tendency toward the ridiculous. For example, when the authorities ask Ben’s computer whiz how they planned to protect the Declaration after removing it from the Smithsonian Museum, he replies, “We have a clean room environment, EDS suits – the whole shebang.” The whole shebang, gobbledygook, whatchamacallit. I’m certainly impressed.
Despite these problems, it’s still a fun film – believe it or not – especially for kids. Director Jon Turteltaub and Disney are to be commended for making a thriller with almost no profanities and very little violence, and for proving that it can be done. A gun appears only once and just one person is killed (when he accidentally falls to his death), which is of concern to the other characters, even though he’s a bad guy. As for the romance aspect, we are fortunately subjected to just one kiss.
From a spiritual point of view, there’s not much here. The film serves as a huge advertisement for Freemasons (not to mention countless commercial products), which claim Christians as members, but which require them to make promises, such as blood oaths, that directly contradict Scripture, as well as swear allegiance to nothing higher than themselves, which necessarily includes Jesus Christ. However, it is undeniable that the founders of our country were indeed Freemasons, as are countless political leaders today around the world. So it is of historical interest, if not spiritual as well, that the film points out how very pervasive the influence of the Freemasons is and was.
“Here’s to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right,” says Ben, justifying what he believes to be the only way to protect the Declaration of Independence – by stealing it. The premise that the end justifies the means is morally shaky at best. However, it will provide ample opportunity for discussion while also conveying just how fun history can be.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” it isn’t, but this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced thriller is nevertheless the rare exception when it comes to family-friendly films. Although younger kids may be bored, particularly with an opening that takes 30 minutes to get to its first action scene, older kids will enjoy figuring out the clues and hearing lots of interesting facts, like who started Daylights Savings Time (Ben Franklin). And, if adults remember to leave their thinking caps in the lobby, they’ll enjoy the film as well.
AUDIENCE: Adolescents and up
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Mild. A few characters sip champagne at formal, black-tie reception. Character offers drink to another character, then sips what appears to be whiskey.
- Language/Profanity: Mild. A couple of British obscenities (“bloody”).
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Mild to none. Characters briefly kiss at the end of the movie and she gives him a map for a treasure hunt, which could imply a sexual promise, but it is not obvious.
- Violence: Average to heavy, in ways that are appropriate for mature adolescents. Characters wave gun, shoot, threaten and engage in life-threatening stunts similar to those portrayed in James Bond movies. On several occasions, the main characters are placed in jeopardy by thieves and risk their lives, but always come out safely.