Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Man in the Iron Mask

Oscar-nominated Randall Wallace (Braveheart) made his directorial debut with this adaptation of the 1848 classic by Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role. Years have passed since the Three Musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) fought together with their friend D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne). The arrogant, tyrannical King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) desires the beautiful Christine (Judith Godreche), so he orders her suitor Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), the son of Athos, off to face death at the front. He also sends Aramis to kill the leader of a Jesuit rebellion. Louis is unaware that his loyal protector and informant, D'Artagnan, is the secret lover of his mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud). Louis' younger twin brother, Philippe (also DiCaprio) is the man in the iron mask, imprisoned for the past six years. Arthos and Porthos plan to free Philippe, abduct Louis and replace him by putting Philippe on the throne. French location scenes include the Chateau de Fontainbleau.

Yet another Dumas classic filmed with a fine ensemble of actors. I tend to be a rather loud advocate of Dumas' because he was pretty much the inventor of the written "action movie". He had an excellent gift for weaving intrigue, romance, friendship and heroism into a relatively fast paced and untangled (for the time period) story. Getting used to the prose is the only thing slow about Dumas' books which is why I'm so constantly amazed at the difficulty displayed in producing a good script from his work. Many, many adaptations have been performed on Dumas' novels and, yet, only a hand full have even come close to capturing the spirit of his work. It seems most of the problems lie the "updating" of the stories for the modern movie patron - by trying to speed things up and simplify the intrigue so the average person can easily comprehend what's going on, most of what makes the story great gets lost in the shuffle and the movie comes across as just another average "period piece".

Fortunately, this version is able to circumvent most of the typical trappings and deliver a surprisingly good version (if not the best) of one of Dumas' greatest known works besides The Three Musketeers. A couple of the things that most impressed me about this version (along with the cast) is how seriously the film is acted and how immersed in the characters each actor became, considering some of the previous versions tended to take a lighter approach or were simply a vehicle for one or two primary actors while a bunch of unknowns populated the background. The sincerity level between this version and some of the previous attempts is similar to the difference between Batman Begins and the first Batman movie, i.e. opposite ends of the spectrum.

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