National Treasure paints the screen in Indiana Jones style, with Nicholas Cage playing Benjamin Franklin Gates. All his life he has listened to his grandfather's tales about his forbearers who spent their lives hunting for a treasure supposedly hidden by the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The yarn weaves a little colonial history with some ambitious fiction. On a dark and stormy night in 1832, Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, wanted to meet with President Andrew Jackson. It seems Carroll knew he was about to die, and had a secret he needed to pass on. Unfortunately the President wasn't home, so Carroll instead entrusted the information to his stable boy, Thomas Gates.
Generations later, Benjamin Franklin Gates is determined to be the one who finally unravels the mystery and unearths the huge stash of valuables he's sure it leads to. He'd better, because he's spending a fortune financing an expedition to find the loot. Searching for a ship supposedly buried beneath the arctic ice cap is the present pointer in a never-ending series of leads Gates has been following over the years.
When they do indeed discover the frozen vessel, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), a once skeptic member of Gates' team becomes convinced his boss is on to something. Nabbing the latest clue found in the cargo hold, Howe and some of the crew commit mutiny, leaving Gates and his friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) inside the boat during an explosive scene involving barrels of gunpowder.
The pair survive the blast and make their way back to civilization, but now they are racing Howe to the next piece of the puzzle, which is supposedly on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Concerned his archrival will steal the historic document and put it in danger, Gates determines to swipe it first. With the reluctant help of historian Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and his skeptical father (Jon Voigt)--the only family member who thinks looking for lost treasure is a waste of time--Gates is forced to examine his own motives while trying to keep the Declaration from falling into Howe's hands.
Shot on location at many historic US landmarks, this film is a pleasure to watch (and it's wonderful seeing America back on the big screen as opposed to "reasonable facsimiles"). The script, while not likely to withstand a rigorous accuracy check, is intelligent and believable enough for audiences to easily engage with Cage and the adventure. The leading man also adeptly lends his wry wit to this Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films co-production.
For me, what's most exciting about this film is what it doesn't contain. There is virtually no profanity or sexual content. A few tense scenes (including a couple of "made you jump" moments) may be too intense for young children (as will the little over two-hour running time), but other violence fits well within this action/adventure's PG rating.
The compelling performances, outstanding visuals, and dash of history added for flavor, make this film a rare treasure for family audiences.