The Man in the Iron Mask (review)

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It’s Good to Be the King

And I don’t mean the king of France. I’m talking about king of the box office. Pundits were predicting that the only film that would knock that old Leonardo DiCaprio flick Titanic from its number-one spot in weekend grosses would be a new Leonardo DiCaprio flick, The Man in the Iron Mask. Well, the little sneak actually managed to create a tieTitanic and Iron Mask appear to have each pulled in the same amount of money. Is this kid gold or what?

But let me tell you, The Man in the Iron Mask (starring lovely Leo, even lovelier Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu) is no Titanic. It’s not bad, actually — better than I was hoping or expecting. It’s got some cool swordfighting, wonderful costumes, and great performances from Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, and, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio in dual roles. But it’s also too long, suffers from too many accents (English, French, American, and Irish), is missing any real sense of the Hollywood swashbucklers of old, and requires that you endure the buffoonish antics of Gerard Depardieu.
You have read the Dumas novel, haven’t you? For those of you who slept through 10-grade English, a quick synopsis: France’s King Louis XIV (DiCaprio) is a mean, cruel, womanizing SOB. He’s a big disappointment to D’Artagnan — the captain of the king’s musketeers and former protege to the famous three, Athos (Malkovich), Porthos (Depardieu), and Aramis (Irons). The retired musketeers are equally appalled by the young king’s behavior — they served his noble father. So Aramis (always my favorite musketeer) concocts a plan to replace the king with his twin brother, Philippe (also DiCaprio). Philippe’s existence has been known only to a select few — he has been imprisoned in a remote jail, his face hidden in an iron mask to hide his identity.

The one thing that Iron Mask is that Titanic isn’t is a showcase for DiCaprio. His is so sublime a talent that he makes you forget how good an actor he is. Titanic‘s Jack Dawson is such a carefree, charming fellow that it’s easy to believe that DiCaprio is simply playing himself. Indeed, in the first half of Iron Mask, before we meet Philippe, it’s easy to wonder what the fuss about DiCaprio is all about — his Louis so even-keeled that he doesn’t seem to be acting at all.

But then we meet Philippe, and DiCaprio’s talent becomes overwhelmingly obvious. Louis’s cruelty and sophistication gets thrown into sharp relief by Philippe’s instinctive kindness and unmannered charm. The two character’s faces are different — Louis’s is set and cold and Philippe’s is open and expressive. Even when the two have switched clothing and circumstances, you can tell by the eyes who is Louis and who is Philippe.

So enjoy The Man in the Iron Mask for what it is: a minor diversion that will probably be forgotten until a clip shows up when Leonardo DiCaprio gets his lifetime-achievement Oscar in 2058.

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