a critiQal film review The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: When young King Louis XIV (DiCaprio) becomes intrigued with the beautiful Christine (Parillaud), he sends her suitor, the son of retired musketeer Athos (Malkovich), to the front lines to die. Enraged, Athos quickly joins fellow retired musketeers Aramis (Irons) and Porthos (Depardieu) in their plan to replace the hated king with his twin brother Phillipe (DiCaprio) - who Louis has kept hidden away in a prison cell, with his face hidden by an iron mask, for the past six years.

686 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 25s)

In the mood for something with a bit of buckle-swashing, I found just the thing while perusing the NetFlix® instant queue: 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask. With a cast that included John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons, I figured I was in for something, if not spectacular, then at least halfway decent.

And with Leonardo DiCaprio again in the limelight recently with Inception (2010), I thought it’d be interesting to take a look back at an earlier point in his career. Could he still do a decent job of things? Or is his ability to wow crowds a new, refreshing development?

Leonardo DiCaprio, with his dual role in The Man in the Iron Mask, becomes one of the few to have the dubious honor of playing twins in a film. While this is usually a letdown (Maximum Risk (1996), Twin Dragons (1999), etc.), it’s recently been pulled off rather well in Alice in Wonderland (2010) (Tweedledee and Tweedledum are played by the same person, Matt Lucas).

Thankfully, Leonardo does a decent job in the dual role, expressing enough differences in the characters to make it believable. Sure, they are simple attitude adjustments (one is snobby, the other timid and kind), but with this kind of tale, that’s really all that is needed. Sure, it could have been better, but with the rather foul track record of films with a character playing twins, it’s actually a big relief he does even a halfway decent job.

John Malkovich, who has seemed to get worse as he advances in age, performed admirably, and has enough presence to easily take a central role in The Man in the Iron Mask. He manages to build on his simple character, creating a reliable anchor point for the viewer to stick to throughout the film. He occasionally goes over the top with his character (sometimes even laughably so), but most of the time he provides the viewer with a solid character the viewer will enjoy following.

As for the other Musketeers…Jeremy Irons, whose raspy voice usually causes him to stand out in a film, no matter how big or small his role, actually meshes well with his costars in the film. This makes him much more a team player than viewers usually expect from him (just look at his Scar performance in The Lion King (1994)). Gerard Depardieu, well-known throughout France but mainly a secondary character in the US, is a bit hard to understand due to his heavy accent. He still manages to steal a scene or two anyway with his brash – albeit simple – portrayal of a man whose love of drink and sex always is on the forefront of his mind.

Gabriel Byrne, looking rather unlike himself with his long locks, does a solid job of portraying the conflicted D’Artagnan, even if his actions really don’t seem to make sense a few times throughout the film. Even those nonsensical actions, however, play to the character. They can be written off due to his obviously conflicted emotions over opposing his longtime friends to support a king he has no respect for.

While the film does have it’s faults, it does manage to stay true to it’s storyline throughout. While a few scenes could have easily been left on the cutting room floor without detracting from the movie as a whole (and, as a bonus, shortening an overly long film), even those stick with the storyline. Oh, yes, some of the sequences are far-fetched (to say the least), but the film manages to gloss over those by creating an aura of myth and legend. So, the viewer is willing to postpone their notions of reality and step into a world where men can walk through a fire of bullets and come out relatively unscathed.

If you’re looking for a film that won’t cause you to suspend your disbelief, then The Man in the Iron Mask isn’t for you. If, however, you are looking for a film that presents a load of swashbuckling fun (despite few actual fights), with an eye for adventure and legend rather than truth, you could do a lot worse.

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