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The Man in the Iron Mask

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Man in the Iron Mask

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons
Director: Randall Wallace
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 132 Minutes
Release Date: March 1998
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud, Peter Sarsgaard

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Writer, director and producer Randall Wallace's screen version of Alexandre Dumas's THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK will likely be remembered as the one that set the record for the most times that the classic phrase, "One for all and all for one," is spoken. But none of them are delivered with anything approaching genuine feeling.

Wallace pays careful attention to the casting and even more to the production itself, but little to the story. The result is an exceedingly beautiful but vapid picture - a costume drama without the drama.

Set in Paris in 1662, the peasants are rioting but the young King Louis XIV, ensconced in his opulent palace, will believe none of it. ("Riots? But Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. Why would my people feel anything but pride and contentment?")

Fresh from his justly praised performance in TITANIC, Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the dual roles of the evil twin Louis and his kinder and gentler twin Philippe, who is the masked man in prison as the story begins. DiCaprio, looking like his fame has gone to his head, nevertheless, overshadows everyone else in this cinematic soap opera. That the others have one-dimensional parts, of course, helps him take center stage. Arguably the most beautiful actor or actress in Hollywood today, he especially outshines his main romantic conquest in the film, played by a rather plain looking Judith Godreche.

John Malkovich gives a didactic reading of the part of Athos, which might have worked if the dialog were not so stiff. Gerard Depardieu plays a flatulent Porthos way past his prime. Jeremy Irons is the overly sincere priest Aramis. And Gabriel Byrne makes D'Artagnan into an excessively somber character, who spews out trite phrases like the rest of them. Dressed in his splendid robes, for example, he stops a mob of filthy, hungry peasants by arguing that he is just one of them, a regular guy. "Your people are most anxious to love you but they are eating rotten food and frequently none at all," is how he explains the troubles to his king.

With Peter Suschitzky's golden-hued cinematography, Nick Glennie-Smith's sweeping and heavy violin music, Anthony Pratt's lush sets and James Acheson's lavish costumes, the film has much to recommend it. In one particularly stunning scene set beside a babbling brook, the audience is able to soak up the pastoral beauty -- that is until someone starts speaking. The best part of the movie has to be the ending credits. It is only then that we can enjoy the music without fear of some inane dialog shattering our rapture.

"You are surrounded by beauty, by intrigue, by danger, what more can a man want?" asks D'Artagnan. How about a movie worth caring about? How about characters who say something more meaningful than, "There is more of me to love than a crown." How about a production that isn't so devoid of humanity? And if Wallace couldn't have done any of that, couldn't he have at least tried some liberal doses of humor? Unless you have a thing for DiCaprio, you're better off renting any of the other adaptations.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK runs too long at 2:10. It is rated PG-13 for swashbuckling violence and some sexual situations and would be fine for kids from around 8 or 9 and up.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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