The Man in the Iron Mask
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
March 12, 1998
The chief selling point of this new adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel is the chance to catch Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio in two separate roles. However, the star’s fans may be disappointed because he’s much more of a heel than a hero this time around.
DiCaprio is suitably obnoxious as the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Louis may be royal, but he’s far from noble. While the residents of Paris are starving, he parties ceaselessly and sends the young men of his country to death in futile wars. The King’s selfish reign and lifestyle have made him legions of enemies, but he’s well protected by the former musketeer D’Artagnan (portrayed with quiet dignity by Gabriel Byrne from The Usual Suspects).
In fact, D’Artagnon’s unwavering support of the unpopular monarch is costing him his friendship with his former comrades: Athos (John Malkovich), Porthos (Gérard Depardieu) and Aramis (Jeremy Irons). The aging Three Musketeers have teamed up again to depose Louis before he plunges France into ruin. They rescue the King’s long lost twin brother, Philippe (DiCaprio again), from the Bastille. In there, he was forced to wear an iron mask so that he’d never be mistaken for his sibling.
The story has been adapted dozens of times (most notably by Douglas Fairbanks in 1929), but writer-director Randall Wallace (who penned the Oscar-winning Braveheart) does find some fresh angles. Dumas’ thick novels offer loads of possibilities to anyone willing to tackle them. The feud between D’Artagnan and the Musketeers was usually left out of the previous adaptations, and it’s an interesting addition here. The rowdy Depardieu and the reserved Irons are a lot of fun together.
In many ways, however, Wallace has too much to work with. Some of his subplots go nowhere. There’s a pointless one involving Louis’ seduction of a girl (Judith Godrèche) engaged to a soldier, and the forbidden romance between the Queen Mother (Anne Parillaud) and D’Artagnan seems more like an afterthought than a consuming desire. Many of these plotlines might have worked better in a miniseries, where they could have developed more fully.
Wallace’s inexperience behind a camera also hampers the film. While the costumes and the sets are delightfully opulent, Wallace fails to deliver the most crucial element of a swashbuckler—action. Wallace’s battles are bloodless and lifeless. He cuts so quickly through fencing and the gunfire that there’s no suspense.
Despite this deficiency, The Man in the Iron Mask is generally entertaining. Still, it is regrettable that much of the passion that has kept the story from aging didn’t make it to the screen (PG-13). Rating: 5.
This page was last updated on 03/06/98.