The Man in the Iron Mask

          Admittedly, when I first saw the confusing trailer for THE MAN IN
  THE IRON MASK, I was less than impressed. In fact, it looked like a
  downright hoot, an amalgam of varying accents (I mean the three
  Musketeers played by a Brit, a Frenchman and an American !), acting
  styles and more buckle than swash. In fact, I approached the screening
  with the feeling that if nothing else, it would be a campy treat of bad
  acting wrapped in gorgeous costumes. The actual film, however, falls
  somewhere in between.

          This is like the seventh filming of the Alexandre Dumas (père)
  novel which recounts the further adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis
  and D'Artagnan. The original swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks had a go
  at the material with the silent
THE IRON MASK (1929), directed by
  Allan Dwan. James Whale's excellent 1939 version was the standard
  for many years. The 1977 television version was designed as a vehicle
  for Richard Chamberlain and in 1998, there were dueling versions —         
  the big-budgeted MGM release written and directed by Randall Wallace
  and the low-budget independent one overseen by William Richert.
  (The latter has only played in L.A. where the critics vehemently
  dismissed it.) What all the versions have in common is a lack of full
  faithfulness to the original novel.

          Wallace's big-budget version takes the most liberties with the
  tale. As a director, he shows himself to be a good writer. The tension
  of the story does not fully kick in until the latter half, and there are
  many awkward scenes to establish the characters, several of which
  fall flat. The exposition is clumsy and clumsily staged. Yet, once the
  Musketeers reunite and retrieve the titular character, things pick up
  and, like
BRAVEHEART, the film becomes a crowd-pleaser. The
  audience goes along with the story, accepting and reveling in the
  plot twists (some of which are baldly telegraphed) and having a
  grand old time.

          It takes a great while to get used to the international cast,
  the varying accents and acting styles. It was a brilliant stroke to cast
  Irons and Malkovich (as the religious Aramis and the moral Athos,
  respectively), as these actors have played their share of screen psychos
DEAD RINGERS and IN THE LINE OF FIRE, respectively). It's
  a quirky pleasure to seem them in heroic personae. Gérard Depardieu
  as the lusty Porthos is used primarily for comic effect, some of which
  works, some of which doesn't. The best of the bunch is Irishman
  Gabriel Byrne's loyal D'Artagnan. Also noteworthy is Anne Parillaud
  as the Queen Mother. It's a role far removed from
  but Parillaud imbues her royal character with dimension and passion.
  The less said about Judith Godreche (so good in
RIDICULE, here making
  her English-language debut), the better. (Obviously, something was
  lost in the translation.) Special mention should be made to Peter
  Sarsgaard who plays Malkovich's son Raoul. The young actor is entirely
  believable in the role, going so far as to mimic Malkovich's odd speech
  patterns, just as a real son might his father's.

          And what of the film's star, Leonardo DiCaprio? Having proven
  himself a capable and fine actor in films like his Oscar-nominated turn
  (sorry, but I though he was fine as Jack Dawson, taking what was
  essentially a one-dimensional stereotype and turning the character
  into flesh and blood), he is a bit uneven at first. It takes some
  getting used to him as the petulant and spoiled King Louis XIV.
  DiCaprio at first seems out of his element, but gradually comes
  into his own — the king's imperiousness and inherent cruelty seem
  a stretch for the actor; it's like watching a Valley guy play at being
  a tough. But eventually, DiCaprio discovers his rhythm and becomes
  the Sun King. (He wears the period designs well, without a hint of
  discomfort.) The handsome young actor fares better, however, as
  the king's twin, using his expressive eyes to depict a kindly, but
  emotionally wounded individual. In a dual role, DiCaprio manages
  to delineate the differences between the characters and carries the film.

          Part of me was disappointed that the film wasn't the camp classic,
  I had hoped it would be. The hokey, overblown score and some
  misdirection, aside, the film is a visual feast. Oscar-nominated
  production designer Anthony Pratt, cinematographer Peter Suschitzsky
  and three-time Academy Award-winning costume designer James
  Acheson have provided astounding technical support. While
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK won't win any awards and probably
  won't make any critics' Ten Best list, it is delightful, light entertainment.

Rating:                C+
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.