You did what you could, that much is clear. But like the rest of the mess that is Inferno, you couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear no matter how hard you tried. Tom Hank’s shifting hairline underlined what is wrong with the whole project — if you’re not sure from one scene to the next exactly what kind of movie you’re trying to make, it isn’t surprising if your lead actor’s hair looks like it has a mind of it’s own.
It wasn’t the hair and makeup that was the real culprit, but the rambling, inchoate mess of a script. Inferno can’t decide if it’s a neo-noir thriller, a supernaturally themed treatise on the human condition, or a third tier Bond film.
Inferno concerns itself with the prerequisite tech billionaire—Ben Foster doing his best Ben Fostering—scheming to destroy the world in order to save it (which worked a lot better with a lispy Samuel Jackson in Kingsmen: The Secret Service). There is a McGuffin/virus called Inferno which is meant to depopulate the earth. Once that is clumsily let loose (in a sequence that made no sense at all from one cut to the next) the whole of the rest of the film is one long, dull slog. Felicity Jones and Hanks dutifully walked through a contrived and often fairly high-handed story that’s built on the most cliché of premises. Inferno also ends messily, with a Bond-esque denouement that would have been perfectly appropriate as an alternate ending to Dr. No.
Nothing really works in this film. Jones and Hanks were completely wasted in roles that require nothing but mawkish gestures and overwrought chase scenes—scenes that frankly are a little beyond Mr. Hank’s middle aged physique. The cinematography and direction were flat and uninspired, the conceptual design, especially during the moments where Hanks is hallucinating, looked rushed and haphazard. And somehow Ron Howard manages to even make Rome look boring.
But probably Inferno’s biggest sin is it never seems to know what it is. In some scenes the tone is slow and deliberate, in others almost buffoonish. When the action finally arrives it all feels very Where Eagles Dare. It was like watching a film where the fight coordinator had been put in cryogenic stasis in the late sixties just to be thawed out for this moment. Sometimes that kind of retro aesthetic can work, but here it just felt beyond stale. If I have one specific complaint about Ron Howard, it’s that he seems to fetishize a particular period in film (say 1966-75) but doesn’t have the skills necessary to echo the work of people like Richard Lester or John Frankenheimer. As a result his films feel like warmed over pastiches.
I did stay engaged with Inferno long enough to try and figure out where Hank’s hair ended and yours began, but honestly if I’m doing that in a film that purports to be a thriller, I suppose the less said about it, the better.