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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 Mark Fleming
3 stars out of 4

Like their 70's counterparts realized by Michael York, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain and Oliver Reed, these Musketeers are similarly incarnated as a quartet of gallant, swaggering swashbucklers, constantly banging-on about honour and codes of conduct. (Paradoxically, they also tend to ignore rules.) In this loose adaptation of another of Dumas' tales, the musketeers have been disbanded. Gabriel Byrne is bodyguard to King Louis XIV (Leonardo Di Caprio), a spoilt brat. The titular masked man is, in fact, Louis's twin Phillipe, condemned to a dungeon by the likelihood of bloody civil war were his true identity ever discovered. Director Randall Wallace spares no expense in painting a meticulous portrait of court life at a time when an aristocratic minority enjoyed lavish opulence, while Parisians starved.

The four main players seize the opportunity to portray the brave but flawed heroes who decide they must topple the corrupt despot. The twist here is that D'Artagnan initially refuses to join their quest, seeing his loyalty to his King as over-riding. This creates an internal conflict never seen in Musketeer movies. But, as the story unfolds through some spirited adventures, D'Artagnan has reasons of his own for worrying about the identity of the rightful heir. The main players give sound performances, and Depardiu's hard-drinking, hard-farting, womanizing Porthos harks back to the bawdy irreverence of those early 70's versions. In his first outing after the spectacular success of 'Titanic,' Di Caprio relishes playing the King as a heartless, narcissistic tyrant. As Phillippe, he is the polar opposite: hesitant, diffident.

The plot hems the Musketeers into corners on many occasions, yet they still come out on top. The swordfights are excellent, physical affairs; far more satisfying than Basil Rathbone daintily flicking his epee at all-comers.

A rollicking adventure set against magnificent backdrops and carried by its four main players performing just the right side of ham.

Copyright 2001 Mark Fleming

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