It matters that the Hassassin is an Arab. With the world watching his every step as he operates in public places in the middle of a media frenzy in Rome, he is at enormous risk. But he is driven by a psychotic frenzy and ancient hatreds. In the movie, Howard doesn’t bother telling us anything about the killer’s motivation, his background, or his identity. He’s coolly played by Danish actor Nikolaj Lee Kaas, who speaks fluent Italian and English. With his rimless glasses he looks as threatening as the assistant manager of an Italian coffee bar.
Every so often we see the killer fiddle with a computer that tells him payments are being processed into his bank accounts. So this bland nobody is putting his neck on the line with the world watching and carrying out a scheme of bizarre torture-murders because … he’s getting a paycheck.
The film of The Da Vinci Code — a sluggish adaptation of a cracking good yarn — posited a massive Catholic Church cover up of a line of direct descendants from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Pure entertainment, Howard claimed. The thing wasn’t to be taken seriously. Fair enough.
In Angels & Demons, the film isn’t about Church-sanctioned misdeeds, and Catholics shouldn’t find it particularly offensive. But (minor spoiler at the end of this paragraph) just as being unwilling to offend Catholics would have taken the heart out of The Da Vinci Code, being unwilling to offend Muslims presents Howard with a problem he never quite solves. A thriller has to have an interesting bad guy, but Howard’s serial killer is such a nonentity he turns down a chance to murder some of his pursuers because he says he isn’t getting paid for that. What self-respecting James Bond villain would be so blasé?
Howard becomes annoyed whenever a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Catholic faith huffs about being offended or murmurs something about a boycott. What ought to offend all of us, though, is that Hollywood is so craven and out of touch as to rule out of bounds any attempt to show bad behavior on the part of even one Muslim.