National Treasure Review

Nicolas Cage plays a treasure hunter searching for a secret horde hidden at the time of the American Revolution in this action-packed caper movie from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Review by Kevin O’Reilly.

A thousand years ago, knights of the First Crusade chanced upon an Egyptian tomb containing a treasure of unimaginably vast proportions. The knights decided that no man, even a king, should possess so much wealth and they formed a secret society to protect their find and keep it secret: the Knights Templar, which, according to some historical theories, would later become the Freemasons. Eight hundred years later, as the American War of Independence was raging, the new nation’s founding fathers, all freemasons, decided to hide the loot somewhere the British could never find it. Unfortunately, they concealed it so well that when the war was over, there was no one left alive who knew where it was and the only clue to its location was given to a stable boy named Gates. For two hundred years, Gates’ descendants would try fruitlessly to solve the clue, which hinged on the name Charlotte, and their quest would make the Gates family name a laughing stock in historical circles.

The crucial breakthrough is finally made by Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), who has been drawn into the family obsession after growing up on his grandfather’s tales. He discovers an eighteenth century sailing ship called The Charlotte preserved under the ice in the Arctic Circle (how he located it is a question left unanswered). The ship contains no treasure but on board is another clue, which hints at the existence of an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. When Ben is betrayed and nearly killed by his shady partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean), he realises the only way to beat Howe and his thugs to the prize is to steal the Declaration of Independence from the most heavily guarded museum in the world. Assisting him, somewhat reluctantly, in his mission are nervous computer geek Riley (Justin Bartha), beautiful museum curator Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and Ben’s sceptical father (Jon Voight).

After the huge success of Pirates Of The Caribbean, producer Jerry Bruckheimer has given another old-fashioned adventure story his high-gloss treatment and once again scored big at the box office. National Treasure is a little like a cross between Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and The Fugitive, with Nicolas Cage and his companions racing around America’s East Coast, decyphering clues and stealing priceless artifacts while trying to stay one step ahead of both villain Sean Bean and FBI agent Harvey Keitel. There’s lots of riddle-solving, plenty of chases, a smattering of American history and the odd heist.

While not a second of this is credible or particularly original, it’s still pretty good fun. Naturally, with Bruckheimer’s name on the credits, the production values are top notch and director Jon Turtletaub, whose background is in comedy, keeps the tone lighter and more fun than the action specialists Bruckheimer traditionally hires might have. The script has just the right amount of self-mocking humour to deter us from thinking too deeply about the absurd plot and its crackpot theories about the Freemasons (which also form the basis of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code). Nicolas Cage confirms his place as the most engaging of today’s action heroes, while costars Diane Kruger, Jon Voight and Sean Bean are all fine and Justin Bartha (the kidnapped boy in Gigli) makes a genuinely funny sidekick. You might wonder however what Harvey Keitel saw in his part other than a paycheque. National Treasure’s only serious drawback, just like Pirates Of The Caribbean’s is its running time. Two hours and ten minutes is far too long for a piece of fluff like this.

Kevin O'Reilly

Updated: Dec 29, 2004

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