Alexandre Dumas, the novelist who wrote 'The Three Musketeers' in the
19th century would be spinning in his grave if he knew that the only
Frenchman in 1998's 'The Man in the Iron Mask' would have the weakest
role. Also written in the 19th century by Dumas, 'The Man in the Iron
Mask' was put into print after 'The Three Musketeers' and it, along with
'The Three Musketeers', actually contains four heroes: Athos, Porthos,
Aramis and D'Artagnan. They are portrayed in this version of 'The Man
in the Iron Mask' by John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons and
Gabriel Byrne. Set in 1662, their King, Louis XIV of France (Leonardo
DiCaprio), is a tyrant, watching his people starve while he lives in the
seductive life of luxury, and is a true law unto himself.
There have been many versions of both 'The Three Musketeers' and 'The
Man in the Iron Mask' produced for film and television and this one has
to ranks in the much lower half of all that has been accomplished.
The musketeers are defenders of the French crown, a high powered army of
loyal soldiers who possess a talent to wield a sword better than anyone
to protect their sovereign ruler. D'Artagnan (Byrne), is the most loyal
and says he will not betray his King, no matter how ruthless his methods
are, somehow hoping his majesty will become a better man. Athos,
Porthos and Aramis are past their prime and have retired to a more quiet
life and decide to replace the King with his twin brother, the man in
the iron mask who the King perceives as a threat to his power. They are
motivated to overthrow the King when one of them is unknowingly deemed
to be a suspicious traitor to the crown.
Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the cast are convincing in their
roles, despite speaking English and containing no French accents
whatsoever, except for Depardieu, but his role is the weakest and most
clownish in the film. Malkovich is miscast as he was in the 1988 period
piece 'Dangerous Liaisons' and why an Englishman, complete with an
accent to boot (Irons) would be asked to play in this is a mystery. But
their professional dedication to their roles make it work and DiCaprio
is believable as both the King and his more decent twin.
The real problem with the film is that by concentrating solely on the
dramatic set-up of the first 90 minutes or so, the finished product, at
a little over two hours, comes off as relatively lifeless and rather
stiffly written instead of sophisticated and high brow, as it should
be. Written and directed by Randall Wallace who wrote director Mel
Gibson's 1995 Oscar winner 'Braveheart', Wallace shows he has no talent
as a director and his attention to detail is pretty superficial. The
costumes in 'The Man in the Iron Mask' are noticeably "costume shop" in
their appearance and the art direction and sets are perhaps the only
saving grace, technically.
Teenage girls are sure to enjoy watching DiCaprio in his first role
since 'Titanic' but one misfired scene has DiCaprio standing still in a
room with his long hair, and some of it is draped over his face and with
his attire, it just looks too feminine. I was imagining ear rings on
him at that moment and it actually seemed funny. Something that I'm
sure wasn't intended and it shouldn't have been allowed to happen.
DiCaprio's hair in many scenes with his female companions actually looks
longer than theirs does. Perhaps appropriate, but it just seems that
someone should have reminded director Randall Wallace that the film is
set in the 1660's and not the 1960's. Peace.
Copyright © 1998 Walter Frith