a critiQal film review National Treasure (2004)

Plot: Ben Gates (Cage) has spent his entire life trying to find the greatest hidden treasure of all time, and has discovered the next clue lies on the back of the Declaration of Independence. When Ben finds out another less reputable treasure hunter (Bean) plans on stealing the important document, Ben has to find a way to keep this important piece of history safe. The only answer - steal it first!

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  • ... a great blend of action, caper and comedy.

This has been a movie I’ve wanted to see since I saw the first preview months ago. After all, Nicolas Cage stars, Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock (1996), Top Gun (1986), etc.) produces, and it’s a caper/action film about an impossible theft (The Declaration of Independence). Put those together, and National Treasure goes right to the top of my must-see list.

But, alas, with the incredible movie prices these days (now saved just for special occasions – or if someone else is paying!), I had to wait until it hit DVD. Once it did, however, we snatched it up so we could check it out. So, would all the positives National Treasure had going for it stack up, or is it time for Nic and Jerry to stop working together?

Again, Nicolas Cage comes through with absolutely great acting. He seems to be able to do no wrong – put him in an action film (The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), or this film), he pulls it off. Throw him into a plot where he has to mimic another actor (he had to act like John Travolta in John Woo’s amazing Face/Off (1997)), he becomes that actor. Even throw him into a tearjerker with flopaholic Meg Ryan (City of Angels), and he carries the film.

Unlike some of those roles, National Treasure is more of the action film he’s used to lately, and his performance is impressive. He really captures his character in whatever role he plays, becoming that character instead of just acting a part, and it shows through in every performance. Little things stand out (such as his excitement over finding another clue makes him giddy enough to show it to the enemy, despite the enemy kidnapping his friends). He really showcases how much finding this lost treasure means to his character, to him, and it shows through in every frame he’s in.

Thankfully, Nic Cage isn’t the only highlight acting-wise in National Treasure. Jon Voight easily falls into the role of father of the adventurer (after all, he’s done this before in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)), and showcases his change from skepticism over the “ridiculous” quest to his growing enthusiasm as the clues start coming together with a realness that he doesn’t always display (he definitely didn’t show much of it in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)).

Sean Bean is a little less impressive in National Treasure then he was in his standout performance in Patriot Games (1992), but he still does a decent enough job to remind viewers of his other past successes (Equilibrium (2002), GoldenEye (1995) and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)).

Decent performances are also given by relative unknowns Justin Bartha and Diane Kruger, while Christopher Plummer and Harvey Keitel aren’t really around enough to showcase their talents.

The plot is immediately intriguing, obviously. With an impossible caper setup like the one in National Treasure, what viewer won’t be hooked on seeing how it’s done? It’s why shows like “The A-Team” (TV), “Mission: Impossible” (TV) and “MacGyver” (TV) did so well in the 80’s, after all (and why “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” (TV) and it’s like are enjoying success now). The average viewer likes to be hooked with a how-did-they-do-that type of mystery, and stealing The Declaration of Independence hooks ’em right off the bat.

Amazingly enough, stealing The Declaration of Independence is only the start for this roller-coaster ride of a film, and National Treasure keeps up the sense of mystery and discovery long after that scene has ended. This one will keep viewers glued right to the end.

The scenery of National Treasure really helps the tone throughout. Seeing the real places that have stood the test of time and – as Nic’s character mentions at one point – knowing the forefathers of our country were actually in these buildings, well, it really gives an intense historical backdrop for the film. To see them actually filming in these places gives such a sense of truth to the film that the viewers will be wondering if this treasure is actually really hidden.

Now that’s the true test of a great mystery film – if it has the audience wondering how much of it is true (especially when most of it isn’t), it’s really achieved the pinnacle of filmmaking. After all, movies try to suspend the viewer’s disbelief for a short while, so if they can keep that suspension of disbelief continuing after the film has ended, what more can they hope for?

If you haven’t seen National Treasure yet, you definitely need to check it out. It’s one of the better action films that we’ve seen in awhile. It’s a great blend of action, caper and comedy that starts off with a great premise (how do you steal the impossible-to-steal Declaration of Independence?), adds a great cast and is produced by ever popular action producer guru Jerry Bruckheimer – and keeps the entertainment level high throughout the entire film.

Rent this one today. We have, and this Treasure is one DVD that is already on our must-own list.

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