National Treasure (2004)

by The Movie Diorama

National Treasure cryptically explores Freemasonry, occasionally striking treasured gold. Adventurous mysteries. From ‘Indiana Jones’ to ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Archaeologists, symbologists, cryptologists and all-round treasure hunters. Journeying with these characters through flawed history never ceases to enthral me. Succumbing to the comfort of my sofa as our protagonists uncover the next clue on their prolonged quest.

National Treasure is no different, which sees an amateur cryptologist search for a hidden stockpile of artefacts accumulated by American Freemasons. “How?” You must be wondering. Well, by stealing the Declaration of Independence which is concealing an invisible coded map leading to the forgotten treasure. But he is not alone in his quest. A rival also seeks “the secret” that “lies with Charlotte”. And so begins the race against time, with two opponents attempting to outwit each other by solving each clue before the other.

The iridescent beauty of adventurous mysteries is the sheer velocity to which the narrative pace flows, an aspect Turteltaub clearly succeeded in implementing. The repetitious nature of its structure, which sees characters search for clues until their destination is reached, instantly maintains a light buoyancy throughout. Gates and his two protégés never spend more than twenty minutes on each clue, before either being interrupted or rapidly solving it. This therefore results in no stagnation, crucial for family-friendly flicks that Disney infamously produces. Whilst the overall theme of the plot is underdeveloped (Freemasonry is an absurdly heavy subject to tackle), it does not require prior knowledge to fully comprehend each clue.

The screenplay explains each cryptic puzzle with humour, thanks to the character of Riley, and an urgent sense of mystery (especially the Ottendorf cipher). It organically captivates. Cage, Kruger and Bartha worked well together and provided natural chemistry, even if the romance was somewhat forced and embryonic. Two adjectives I cannot utilise to describe the production design however, which was absolutely incredible. Showcasing US history through the locales of the National Archives, Independence Hall and Trinity Church’s catacombs.

Unfortunately though, suspension of disbelief is required to fully enjoy National Treasure. The sheer amount of implausibilities within its plot does plague the legitimacy of the mystery. The Declaration of Independence surely has to be one of the most guarded artefacts in America, right? Cage comes along and steals it within twenty minutes. The likelihood of a tall building being erected in between the Sun and Independence Hall? High. Meaning Gates would not have found that brick. Then there are the plot conveniences, such as a bus providing insight for Riley to finish his riddle just before the antagonistic Sean Bean finds him, that induce several eye-rolling moments. Speaking of beans, Sean’s luscious locks in this were distracting. Really distracting. And Voight’s as well!

Alas, National Treasure knows what it is. A straightforward yet fun family adventure, with hints of historic mystery to fascinate audiences. Highly improbable? Absolutely. Does it hinder the overall enjoyment? Well, that’s for you to decide. Personally, it’s a hidden gem that the Freemasons forgot to bury.