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
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