Movie Review: National Treasure

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Following a tradition passed down through the generations, a treasure hunter must steal the Declaration of Independence to find the next clue to a long-hidden treasure.

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Jon Turteltaub, 2004

Generations of men in the Gates family have been searching for the legendary Templar treasure, and Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is no exception. Although his father Patrick (Jon Voight) disapproves, Ben continues on his family’s legacy, bringing in the smart but not overly knowledgeable Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) to his team. Funded by obsessive millionaire Ian Howe (Sean Bean), the team finds a ship long since lost and discovers that the next clue is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Howe makes a plan to go after it against Ben’s wishes, and when Ben protests Howe tries to kill him. After a variety of law enforcement agencies refuse to believe that the Declaration is in danger, Ben makes his own plan to steal it. However he arouses the suspicions of historian Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who is then caught up in the plot to prevent Howe from getting his hands on the treasure. With him hot on their heels every step of the way, Riley, Ben, and Abigail follow a series of clues as the danger mounts.

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This is a ridiculous sort of movie, as one would expect any action movie with Nic Cage in the lead to be, but I had a pretty enjoyable time watching it. Once you actually pick at the plot it’s completely insane, but then, that’s to be expected when a key element involves stealing the Declaration of Independence and not letting anyone know about it in order to find a long-hidden treasure. There are, apparently, clues about this treasure everywhere, as left by the Freemasons: hints are on American money, in letters sent by long-dead presidents under pen names, on old boats frozen under ice, just about everywhere you can think of. Though they do a decent job of ratcheting up the tension, there’s an ease with which our intrepid heroes are able to move around and get these clues that doesn’t ring entirely true. I mean, planning and pulling off the heist to steal the Declaration alone could have taken up an entire movie and I’d be happy (but I do love a heist movie). Instead that’s done before the movie’s halfway through, leaving the team to run from Howe more often than I’d like.

Though his villain is thinly drawn, Sean Bean is on good form here, having a grand old time with long blond hair, being menacing. Diane Kruger is great, but she’s oddly cast, not only because of the ridiculous age difference between her and Nicolas Cage, but also because of her obvious German accent in what was clearly supposed to be an American character (Abigail Chase? Come on now). Still, both she and the adorably acerbic Justin Bartha do a good job of grounding the film and balancing Cage’s usual mania. The best scenes involve the three of them making plans or talking history. Both Abigail and Ben have a deeply held respect for history that doesn’t quite marry with their willingness to tamper with historical treasures, but still, the movie has a sense of fun about it. It’s a cute, silly action flick that doesn’t do anything new, but delivers on its promise effectively.

National Treasure on IMDb

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