“National Treasure” is a fun yet ludicrously wild jaunt through an action-adventure mystery slammed together with historical mythology.
The film, directed by Jon Turteltaub and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, stars seasoned actor Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates (yes, that’s the character’s legal name), an historian and treasure hunter specializing in artefacts of colonial America. After a falling out with colleague Ian, played by fellow seasoned actor Sean Bean, Gates and his business partner Riley end up making a plan to steal the Declaration of Independence to help them find a treasure beyond their wildest dreams. They have multiple run-ins with the law and historically minded puzzles. Gates and friends must decipher the clues left by the founding fathers of the United States before the knowledge falls into the wrong hands.
The film is wild in all the best ways. The film’s mythology it sets up is wild all on its own. Supposedly, in the universe of the film, Cage’s character is descended from a long line of treasure hunters and secret keepers all leading back to a stable boy for Charles Carroll in early colonial America. Carroll passed on a secret to Gates that the Founding Fathers, in addition to leading the fledgling nation, were also stewards of a supreme treasure curated by many secret organizations throughout history such as the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. If that wasn’t crazy enough, this film takes stuffy historical elements and turns them into brainteasing challenges for the characters on screen.
The challenges placed in front of Gates and Riley make sense on the surface but many of the details from the movie don’t really check out when you fact check them. For example, the film purports that Benjamin Franklin was the first to propose daylight savings time. The truth is actually more nuanced than that. Franklin did propose daylight savings time but in a satirical article and not for the purpose of farming, but for the purpose of saving candles which we were used for far more than lighting in the days of colonial America. Another far-fetch in “National Treasure” involves the Silence Dogood letters. Gates and companions believe there is a secret code in the text of the letters written by Franklin under the mentioned pen name. The only problem with this is the existence of a “secret code” is purely up to your imagination. If you search through any document hard enough, you will be able to find a secret code to suit your needs.
“National Treasure,” despite its wacky presentation of historical material, is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat. It would be wild to be a fly on the wall in the original pitch. An action-adventure mystery that incorporates historical mythology. For the layperson, it’s completely enjoyable. For historians, both professional and amateur, it may be a little jarring. “National Treasure” receives a B rating.