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The Last Templar: Sex and the City of Gold
Purgamentum Vos Non Liberabit
By Professor W
January 31, 2009
Our seemingly insatiable appetite for movies about the Knights Templar was offered another snack last week, when over two nights NBC aired its adaptation of Raymond Khoury’s 2006 best-selling novel, The Last Templar. It follows other such Templar movies as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Revelation (2001), The Da Vinci Code (2006) and last, and in so many ways least, Bloodline--The Movie (2008).
While the TV movie strays for dramatic effect from several plotlines of the novel, it’s fun to watch and the story stretches our imaginations, but not too far. The lead character, Tess Chaykin, played by the stunning Mira Sorvino, is a female Indiana Jones in Manolo Blahniks--“the prequel to the sequel”, as she describes herself. Carrie Bradshaw morphed into Harrison Ford. Tess and the vulnerable Catholic FBI agent, Sean Daley, played by Scott Foley, spend three hours--as so many have done before--chasing after the “lost treasure of the Knights Templar”. For a change, the treasure is not a physical treasure, but something of immense historical and spiritual value. I won’t give you a plot spoiler, but think Bridget Jones and a major religious leader.
There’s a lot of silliness in the film: a Bletchley Park-style Templar decoder from the twelfth century, storms in the Mediterranean, which would have made George Clooney faint, a confusion about how close Jerusalem, the City of Gold, actually is to the coast of the Mediterranean (it’s 32 miles away and not on the coast!). I could go on, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter. The Last Templar is an action-packed, sexy movie with a half-decent plot. Mira Sorvino carries the movie well as the independent, sassy archaeologist on the trail of the treasure. Her on-screen chemistry with the FBI agent works throughout the film and never really grates. The dialogue is snappy and the movie just kinda works.
There are some stand-out scenes in the movie, when for example four Templars turn up on horseback and invade the opening of the “Treasures of the Vatican” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum and Mira Sorvino--in a cocktail dress and high-heeled Manolos--tries single-handedly to chase after them and recover the stolen treasure. We know that the FBI detective has his sights set on Tess because he replaces the Manolos, which were sadly broken in the dramatic chase…
The bad guy, as we all guessed early on, turns out to be the Catholic priest. We guessed this, because he alone refers to the Templars--as the great Tom Hanks did in DVC--as “Templahrs”. All the other actors can handle the orthodox pronunciation (with the slightly worrying exception of Tess’s annoyingly precocious daughter!).
No-one would lay any claims to the historical accuracy of the movie. It’s not that kind of movie. The Templar ship, the Falcon Temple, is as real as the Millennium Falcon. It really doesn’t matter whether the Templar Grand Master, Guillaume de Beaujeu, has developed a wicked, but well-intentioned plan to try to stop the fighting between the religions. It’s just a movie that pitches faith against truth. It’s not selling a truth.
A repeating theme in the movie is that the Templars’ motto was “Veritas Vos Liberabit” (the truth will set you free)--for which there is scant historical evidence. Perhaps curiously, the archaeologist heroine who has spent her life seeking historic truths and evidence--when presented with the option of making public a historic document which could undermine the religious belief which has prevailed for over two thousand years--opts instead to throw the document into the sea. Tess simply takes the view that too many people are happy believing what may be a lie and that the truth wouldn’t set them free. That’s hard to argue with, isn’t it?
The Last Templar isn’t going to win any awards, but it has one great advantage over its predecessor Templar movies--it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s not dark and meaningful like DVC and it doesn’t claim to be revealing any great secrets and truths. And unlike DVC, the actors in The Last Templar seemed to enjoy making the film and their fun communicates itself to the audience. It’s chewing gum for the eyes and it doesn’t pretend to be filet mignon.
The trouble with so many Hollywood movies and novels over the past ten years is that they have taken spurious evidence and tried to find religious truths in them. What’s refreshing about The Last Templar is that the underlying “mystery” in the movie is bilge, but it doesn’t try to be anything else. It doesn’t purport to be peddling a truth; it’s just a fast-paced, fun story. If only the other peddlers of religious “mysteries” took the same approach, they might make better movies and write better books. If the Templars were around today, I fear their motto would be “Bilge will set you free”. If you want to try and understand something of the early Church or the Templars, read a serious work by a serious, qualified writer. Don’t waste your time reading a work by an unqualified fanatic, who imposes their confused belief system onto some specious “historical” rumor and then treats their work as “gospel”, which they then sell to credulous cult followers.
But, if you have a few hours to spare (and it’s on the reruns), there are worse things to do than watch Mira Sorvino outsmarting everyone, being easier on the eye than everyone and doing all she can to defeat all the bad guys. Tess and the Templars gets my vote!