The Man in the Iron Mask

Handsomely mounted, exquisitely detailed and gorgeously shot, the latest incarnation of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask” is ultimately stolid. Adapted and directed by Randall Wallace, who delivered a rousing “Braveheart” script, “The Man in the Iron Mask” seems as lifeless as it’s title character.

All of the ingredients for a grand film are there: a hot leading man; engaging supporting players; sumptuous locations; intrigue; romance; sword play; revenge. Under Wallace’s first time direction, it all comes together, but it never clicks. I admired the thought and effort that went into “The Man in the Iron Mask,” but I left the theater feeling something was missing. Heartthrob of the moment Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the nasty King Louis, so preoccupied with his private war with the Jesuits, that he has left his minions poor and starving. Louis is a cruel king, willing to send a man to war and his death in order to secure the poor sap’s fiancĂ©e for his own.

Standing steadfastly by his King is D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), head of the musketeers. His devotion conceals a dark secret that ties him to the King’s mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud). Opposing D’Artagnan are former musketeers Aramis (Jeremy Irons), now the King’s spiritual advisor; Athos (John Malkovich), out to avenge the death of his son; and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu), who can’t stand the fact that he’s no longer young and virile.

The three musketeers engineer a plan to free the King’s younger twin brother, Philippe (DiCaprio), from an island fortress where he has been imprisoned inside an iron mask to shield his identity. The plan almost succeeds, and leads to a heroic stand-off between the four friends and the King’s musketeers. Unlike Richard Lester’s irreverent and witty “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers,” Wallace’s take is dry and leaden.

His feeble attempts at humor are sophomoric, as if he were trying to please the young teens who came to worship DiCaprio. DiCaprio is weak as the evil King, all snarl, little bark, and no bite. He’s far too pretty to be menacing. As Philippe, DiCaprio fares much better. You believe his sincerity, his wide-eyed wonder. He’s much better as the dreamer than the man nightmares are made of. The film’s real strength lies in the four actors portraying the musketeers.

Irons, Malkovich, Byrne and Depardieu embody the spirit of the characters. Depardieu is especially randy as the musketeer who realizes that he’s falling apart. His encounter with some lovely lasses in a haystack and the outcome are especially engaging. Perhaps Wallace forgot he was shooting a swashbuckler, because nothing in “The Man in the Iron Mask” swashes.

There’s lots of swordplay, but it’s shot in such a confusing manner that it’s hard to root for anyone. The film is dark, even when it serves no purpose. Mainstream audiences may be more forgiving, but in comparison to all that came before it, “The Man in the Iron Mask” is no more than a slight diversion.



Leonardo DiCaprio, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne, in a film directed by Randall Wallace. Rated PG-13. 132 Min.


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