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IN SHORT: Slow and sure. Not bad but not great.
I'm not quite sure where to start talking about The Man in the Iron Mask, which has all the looks and potential of a kick ass period piece -- beautiful women, beautiful scenery, lots of swashbuckling, crowd scenes, intricate twists and turns in the story (which is adapted from the you-probably-read-it-in-school classic novel by Alexandre Dumas).
As always, Cranky makes no comparison to Source Material (in this case Cranky can't remember that far back).
What The Man in the Iron Mask puts on the movie screen, is a lavishly produced tale which never achieves the critical momentum to become the big swashbuckling adventure which it should be. Cranky has no problems with the multitude of English accents coming from a predominantly British cast. The problem falls in the combination of a very careful (as in slow and deliberate) unveiling of the story and the poor performance by French actress Judith Godrèche, whose grasp of English is not strong enough to let her Christine, an important role central to the elaborate story, draw us in and allow us to get swept away in the politically turbulence that follows.
Writer/director Randall Wallace (who proved he knows how to tell an epic story with his script for Braveheart) puts words in the mouth of the King which, while trying to emulate the dialog style of 17th century France, sound awkward coming out of the mouth of Leonardo DiCaprio. The flaws are small, true, but small holes sunk the original Titanic. It's unfortunate, as every other aspect of the casting and production is dynamite.
King Louis XIV (DiCaprio) is, in his own words, a "young King." He is also a horny king; an arrogant and nasty piece of work who feeds rotten food to his people and orders them shot when they object. Protecting the King from a Jesuit conspiracy to assassinate him is the fourth of the legendary Three Musketeers, d'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne).
The original Three Musketeers are old and out of shape. Athos (John Malkovich) has raised a son. Aramis (Jeremy Irons) is a priest. Porthos (Gérard Depardieu) is a whoring drunkard. Athos' son is engaged to Christine (Godrèche) whom the King covets in the way David did Bathsheba in the Bible, with similar results. The title character is locked away in the infamous Bastille prison and is the key to Athos' vow of vengeance. This man, Phillippe (also DiCaprio) is the twin brother of the King and his existence can destroy the monarchy.
DiCaprio's good King is a well rounded performance but his bad King is all cardboard. You don't dislike the character enough to get swept up in the coming revolt. Depardieu's Porthos is the comic relief and Malkovich's Athos has little to do other than yearn for revenge. Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons, whose characters walk the fine line of being both friends and enemies, take the cake. Great performances from the pair. Byrne's d'Artagnan is torn by all sorts of emotional subplots which I won't reveal and is the strongest reason I can give for seeing the flick.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Man in The Iron Mask, he would have paid . . .
Not bad enough to wait for the rental. Not good enough to wait on line.
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