The Man in the Iron Mask

G

I walked into this movie ready to hate it. This seemed like cheap exploitation of Leonardo DiCaprio’s star power — and in a way I still think it is. But at this early date in 1998, a stupefyingly bad movie year, The Man in the Iron Mask is the year’s best film, although I certainly hope that it doesn’t stay that way.

The great thing about The Man in the Iron Mask is that it doesn’t leave us a dollar short in any department. Well, almost. The characters are astonishingly well defined and developed. The story, based on a novel by Alexander Dumas, has been carefully thought through and executed, except for one small factor which doesn’t make sense. The acting is magnificent, especially from Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons. DiCaprio does an OK job, although he has trouble holding his own along his co-stars. The only unsatisfying part of this film is its script, which has quite a few moments of ludicrosy

DiCaprio plays King Louis, an arrogant French dictator. He also plays Louis’ twin, Phillipe, whom Louis imprisoned in an iron mask, so noone would find out his identity and contest that he should be king. Byrne, Irons, John Malcovich and Gerard Depardeu play musketeers (some ex-musketeers). Irons, Malcovich and Depardeau want King Louis to go down. Their plan is to exchange Louis for his twin, Philippe who is in prison. Byrne’s musketeer however, is still loyal to Louis, even though he certainly has his problems with the tyrant.

The story is complicated and it works. The climax of The Man in the Iron Mask is outrageously exciting. I was surprised at how drawn in I was by the inevitable swashbuckling near the end. And, along with the brilliant acting, the movie makes up for its bad script and thoroughly entertains. It’s not great, but it’s refreshingly good — the only movie of the year to go above ***.

-- Eugene Novikov

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