National Treasure (2004) – Jon Turteltaub

Sometimes you just want fluff. And honestly, who doesn’t like the idea of a secret history shrouded in clues and mysteries all around in the everyday, and the history of a country? Like an inoffensive version of The Da Vinci Code, the first National Treasure is a solid popcorn film, meant to entertain and not much else.

Nicholas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter, whose family has been on a quest for generations to track down a massive treasure that the country’s forefathers hid. When his latest effort ends explosively, with a split in the team, he and his partner Riley (Justin Bartha), must beat their former teammates, now turned enemies, led by Ian Howe (Sean Bean in his villain phase) to the next clue, which may be hidden somewhere on the Declaration of Independence.

Gates comes up with a plan to steal the Declaration first, before Ian can get it, and ropes a brilliant historian, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) into helping him as the trio race across the historic sites of the Eastern Seaboard.

It’s a fast-paced tale that races along, throwing out the occasional historical tidbit as our heroes work to beat the baddies to the massive treasure. Cage is a lot of fun, and the film surrounds him with some great supporting actors, Christopher Plummer shows up as his grandfather, Jon Voight plays his father, and Harvey Keitel makes an appearance as an FBI agent who just may be more than he seems.

There’s some great production design, marrying actual historical locations to the creations of the script, and making it, well if not believable, at least allow you to engage in a suspension of disbelief while the film plays out.

Cage, as always, wavers between too much, and just right, and there are times when he doesn’t even seem to be in the same film, but it’s a lot of fun to watch his performance. Pairing him with Kruger and Bartha helps balance things out, as Kruger is a little more restrained than Cage, and Bartha has a playful edge that tempers it all.

The story rips along, racing from one set piece to the next, pausing just long enough to deliver some history mikes with creative exposition that lets Gates and Chase trot out some historical piece of trivia, before moving on to the next sequence.

But that’s kind of the point, it’s just supposed to be a rollercoaster ride of entertainment. It’s not trying to change the world, maybe interest some people in learning about history, but nothing more than a passing entertainment (though it did go on to spawn a sequel, and a series now in development at Disney+).

It’s fun, a bit of a no-brainer, and perfect for a popcorn matinee.

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