NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Robbie Tan who says... "This movie somewhat takes off from the DaVinci code but the combination of Bruckheimer and Cage (as in The Rock) makes this movie fun and a must see."
The movie opens in an attic somewhere in Washington, D.C. On a stormy night of 1974 a boy finds what he was looking for, an intricately ornamented wooden box. Before he can open it, he meets his grandfather, who has followed him there. The grandfather then tells the boy the story behind the scrap of paper that is inside the box.
The scene changes to scenes of continuous warfare between the different ancient races interposed with people holding treasure. The grandfather narrates how the treasure accumulated in value as the new victors add to the treasure they won from the conquered races. The Crusaders find the treasure in a hidden vault where they decide its value was greater than one man, even their king, should posses. The Crusaders evolve into the knights templar and then became freemasons, in honor of the ancient temple builders. It was the freemasons who brought the treasure into America where they met the Revolutionary War. Hiding it from the British was a paramount mission for the freemasons, which then included prominent names such as General Washington and Ben Franklin. The treasure was secured and the secrets to its location known only to the freemasons.
The tale continues with the midnight ride of Charles Carroll, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll wanted to meet president Andrew Jackson to tell him the secret of the treasure before he died. But the President was not in the White House that night, the secret then was passed on to Carrolls coachman, together with the paper that bore the clue to the treasures whereabouts. Other clues were hidden as well, some of them in plain sight, the grandfather continued.
Back in the attic, the bonding between grandfather and grandson was interrupted by the boys father, Patrick (Jon Voight), who said that he wasted 20 years of his life finding a non-existent treasure. He asks the grandfather to leave. The boy, however, asked his grandfather if he was a knight. The grandfather then asks the boy if he wants to be knighted. The boy says, Yes. The grandfather then drapes a cape on the kneeling boy and knights him, and tasks him, Benjamin Franklin Gates, to continue looking for the treasure. Grandpa then hands the Ben the paper inside the box that reads, the secret is in Charlotte.
Next scene shows the boy grown up (Nicholas Cage) and riding a snowmobile somewhere in the Arctic. With him are Ian (Sean Bean) his financial backer and Riley (Justin Bertha) a techo-geek recruited from a cubicle. They are looking for Charlotte, a ship sunk beneath the snow. They find the ship and explore. Inside the ships cargo hold, several barrels were stored. As the group, mostly Ians men, start overturning barrels in search of treasure, finding mostly gunpowder. Meanwhile, Ben found the ships captain protecting a barrel with a gun in his hand. Ben finds another ornately decorated box inside the barrel. The box holds an ivory pipe, delicately carved to resemble a ship. As the groups enthusiasm wanes, Ben pulls out the pipe stem. Using the blood from his finger as ink, he wipes at the stem across a piece of paper to reveal a riddle. The riddle points to a enduring document that holds what a group of 55 men has resolved to do contains the next clue for the treasure. Ben figures it is the Declaration of Independence and Ian agrees. However, Ben disagreed with Ian that the Declaration should be stolen, since the government will not hand it over to their group to look for treasure clues. Ian then reveals that he is also behind several questionably legal activities, and that he is very capable of stealing the document. When Ben threatened to stop him, Ian then tried to kill Ben. Ben, with a little help from Ian, set fire to the ship. After locking Ben and Riley inside the cargo hold, Ian escapes the doomed ship. The ship explodes and Ian looks back to a crater and tells his group to move away from the site before they get noticed.
Ben, after Ian locked the cargo hold, starts looking for a smugglers hole that he knows every ship has. He finds it and that saved Ben and Riley from the explosion. They start walking back to a popular spot on the Arctic to enable them to get home.
Back home, Ben and Riley visit every law enforcement building they can, the last being the FBI. Nobody believed their story that a group of professionals is out to steal the Declaration. They finally visit the National Archives where the Declaration is kept. Here they talk to the Archives boss, Dr, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and tries to warn her of the impending theft. Abigail believes, as did the other law enforcement agencies, that Ben (who introduced himself as Paul Brown) was a lunatic and that the Declaration is theft-proof. During the visit, Ben admires Abigails collection of election pins and noting that she is missing one with Washingtons image. Ben later sends her the pin to complete her collection, still under the name of Brown.
Ben and Riley sit in front of the Lincoln Memorial talking things out. Ben decides that they should try to steal the Declaration before Ians group does. With the Washington Memorial behind him, Riley tries to convince Ben that it is not possible. At the Library of Congress (this movie is turning out to be a D.C. tourists heaven), Riley shows the different security features that surround the Declaration. Ben counters with a book on preservation, as what procedures are done to preserve the document. Ben figures out that the best time to strike is when the Declaration is displayed during a gala. While the two make their preparations, it seems that Ian is also going for the Declaration at the same night, although using a different approach. The duo start their move when Riley activates the alarm on the Declaration vault that causes the real Declaration to be sent down to the preservation area and having the alarm system checked for bugs.
Gala night finds Riley doing the techno side of the heist, providing video coverage, etc. Ben enters the Archives as a workman but sheds his clothes immediately to reveal a tux underneath. He cozies up to Abigail in the party, and ingeniously obtains her thumbprint by getting her drinking glass. Ben uses the thumbprint to enter a secured area. Using an infrared viewer, he identifies the computer keys that Abigail used when entering the password to the preservation area. As Riley tries a computer word processor, Ben identifies the password as Valley Forge, a reference to an important site in the War of Independence. Ben enters the preservation area where he tries to remove the Declaration from its glass case.
Meanwhile, Ian and his group enter the Archives using an underground tunnel. When one of them ties in with the video camera where Riley is also connected, Rileys screen goes blank and he sounds an alarm. Ben brings out the whole panel, intending to complete his job during the elevator ride. As Ben waits for the elevator doors to open, Ian breaks down the opposite door across the hall. Ian is shocked to see Ben alive and holding the Declaration but Ben makes his escape using the bulletproof panel as his shield.
Abigail gets suspicious of Bens remarks at the party and verifies his absence from the official guest list. Ben emerges from the elevator where he dodges Abigail going around the party looking for him. Ben saunters in the souvenir shop where the cashier spots the rolled up Declaration and asks for payment. A few dollars short, Ben is forced to use his Visa card.
Ben walks out of the Archives, Abigail hot on his tails. Ian is also making a hasty exit using their underground tunnel. Abigail finally caught up with Ben behind their getaway truck. Eyeing the rolled up paper in Bens hand, Abigail demands for it as alarm bells sound. The buildings security finally discovers the theft. Surrendering the paper, Ben gets in the truck as Abigail tries to get the attention of security. Ian spots Bens vehicle and sees Abigail holding the paper. Ian then kidnaps Abigail as Ben pursues them. Ian gets hold of the paper as Ben rescues Abigail.
Inside the truck, Abigail is shocked by the kidnapping and the Declarations theft. Ben shows her that the true Declaration is still with him, that Ian got the souvenir Ben bought from the gift shop. He reveals himself to Abigail as Ben Gates, a name Abigail recognized as the family with the conspiracy theory connected to the White House. In a dark corner, Ben paces while thinking their next move. The FBI is sure to track him to his home (where he planned to scan the Declaration in a prepared lab) through his credit card. Ben finally decides to go to his fathers house with Riley and a now interested Abigail. The FBI, led by Peter, investigate the heist and discovers Paul Brown a.k.a. Ben Gates suspicious presence. A background check reveal s that Ben holds various degrees (American history and Mechanical engineering) from top notch schools and has scuba training from the Navy to boot.
Patrick gives the trio a not so warm welcome and a whisper that he hopes that this visit is not about the treasure. Ben disappoints him by saying that it is so. Ben, together with Abigail, start to look for clues in the back of the Declaration. They find the freemason symbol and a bunch of numbers written. Patrick then discovers that they stole the Declaration and begins to sermon Ben on the fruitlessness of his search and how it will consume his future. Patrick describes how he looked for Charlotte in the past 20 years without finding her. He reasons out that the treasure thing is just a ploy to preoccupy the British, and that there is no treasure but just more and more clues. Ben disagrees and asks for his father the original Silence Dogood letters (a group of letters written by a 16 year old Ben Franklin hiding under that pseudonym) as his scans were confiscated by the FBI. Patrick tells them that he has donated the lot to the Ben Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.
Later, the FBI enters Patricks house where they rescue him. Peter tries to get Patrick to talk as to where Ben will next go to, but Patrick does not tell him. Ian is also cracking the original riddle in the Charlotte pipe and also goes to Philadelphia for the Silence Dogood letters.
A boy is shown counting off letters in the displayed Silence letters and writing them down. The boy then runs out (where he bumps into Ian coming in the museum) to Riley across the street. Riley is giving money to him in exchange for looking at the letters. As the boy runs back to the museum for the final word, Ian recognized the boys activity and follows surreptitiously. Riley, however, has figured out the last word by looking at the Liberty Bell picture in a bus that stopped in front of him. The boy did not find Riley in his return but Ian gave the boy money in exchange for the last word that the boy has taken from the letters. A Google search reveals the connection of the Liberty Bell.
Ben figures out that the tower where the Liberty Bell was originally hung is the next clue. At the appointed time (using a clue from the picture of the clock of the $100 bill), Ben acquires special spectacles inside a brick near the tower. Ben uses the spectacles to see a map in the back of the Declaration. He also realized that they were holding the declaration in the same place where it was signed. Outside Ian corners the group. The trio splits up, and so does Ians men. After a foot chase, Bens makes his escape by giving his man an empty holder. Abigail, however, loses the Declaration to Ian. As the trio tries to regroup, Ben gets arrested by the FBI who was waiting near Patricks car (which the trio stole).
Ben tries to explain their story to Peter, who was not convinced. A phone call from Ian (abetted by Abigail) set up Ben and the FBI for an exchange. The exchange was to happen at the flight deck of an aircraft carrier anchored in New York and open to the public. Aided by Ian, Ben escapes the FBI by jumping off the deck and the two meet up in New Jersey. Ian gives Ben the Charlotte pipe and Ben gives Ian the next clue. But Ian already has Abigail, Riley and Patrick hostage so that Ben must cooperate a little more.
Ben leads them inside the Holy Trinity church near Wall Street, where, using the special spectacles again, sees new clues in the back of the Declaration. The new clues lead to the cemetery under the church, to the tomb of a 3rd degree master mason, where the secret entrance is located. Going down the very deep cavern (below the subway lines) using an ancient dumbwaiter, the group stops at a dead end. A single lantern illuminates the freemason symbol on a wall. Frustrated, Ian leaves the group below. Patrick then starts to give the next clue on how freemason teachings point to a site in Boston. Ian still leaves them behind, intending to go to Boston alone.
The group, after hearing Ians departure, starts looking around the place in earnest. Ben spots a secret button that leads to, what he believes, the treasure room and another way out. The place turns out empty, save for some broken ornaments. Ben is crestfallen but Patrick says that he is proud of Ben despite not getting the treasure (they thought somebody beat them to it as early as 100 years ago) for Ben has solved the family mystery that no one has ever solved. The only thing is, he continues, is to keep looking for it. Ben, taking heart, finds a dent in the wall that he places the Charlotte pipe into and uses the pipe stem to rotate. Another door opens and reveals the REAL TREASURE ROOM. The treasure is full of golden Egyptian caskets and ancient scrolls. Riley spots the other way out leading to another tomb in the cemetery. They get out as the cemetery caretaker discovers the broken tomb of the first entrance. They call in the FBI.
Peter and Ben talk about finding the treasure (which he estimates to be worth at least $10 billion) and the conditions that go with it. Conditions are: Abigail gets away scot-free, the WHOLE Gates family gets credit for finding the treasure with Riley assisting them and Ben doe not get jail time. Peter, who turns out to be another freemason, still believes that the treasure is too great for one man but is not too great for a republic. Peter is also amenable to Bens conditions save that the FBI need some one to go to jail to satisfy the demands of justice for the theft of the Declaration. Ben helps Peter apprehend Ian just as Ian is forcibly opening the historic site that Patrick told him about. Ian is then hauled off to jail on a variety of charges, including trespassing on government property. Ian sees Ben shrugging his shoulders nearby before he gets inside the police car.
Next scene shows Ben, Abigail and Riley talking while taking a country stroll. Riley is ragging Ben for turning down the 10% finders fee. Ben replies that he already got what he wanted and kissed Abigail. Ben then commiserates with Riley for getting only 1% as Riley drives off in his new Ferrari. The camera zooms back to reveal a large colonial mansion that was Bens reward. Abigail hands him a map and starts running to the house with Ben chasing her.
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