I remember when this film came out and everyone thought Titanic was the greatest film of all time. This was Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film after Titanic launched him into the stratosphere and made him one of the most recognisable faces in the world. This follow up about the aging Three Musketeers trying to usurp a horrible king was a risk for DiCaprio. He could have so easily have played it safe and continued to make flashy box office hits or romance flicks. He could have had a nice career making the same film over and over again, but I have respect for the career choices he has made. DiCaprio has gone on to become one of my favourite actors and always good in any performance he gives. At this early stages of his career, he was not at the level of greatness he has achieved now, but there were glimpses of his talent in films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
DiCaprio plays the dual roles of the horrible King Louis of France and his imprisoned twin brother Philippe. The Three Musketeers have long since retired, but when Athos’ (John Malkovich) son is killed in battle so that Louis can get access to his bride to be, Athos gathers Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) and Aramis (Jeremy Irons) to avenge his son’s death by freeing the imprisoned Philippe and switching him with the real king. They also try to bring D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) into their scheme, but he refuses as he is now the King’s advisor and has much to lose. He vows to stop his old friends if he can. The Three Musketeers set out to free Philippe and plant him on the throne regardless and hope a new king will bring more prosperity than the current selfish one does.
Now I must say that it is a bit strange that an entire film set in France only has one Frenchmen playing a lead roles. It’s not a huge issue for me, just something worth noting. I had no issues with Kevin Costner being Robin Hood even if he doesn’t quite get the Nottingham accent down right, and this film is the same. If they cast a bunch of Frenchies, the film would be nowhere near as successful as it was, so I can look past it. I am a bit surprised they even managed one Frenchmen because most Three Musketeers films are not even able to get that many.
This is a fun swashbuckling adventure, though. The cast is great and full of really accomplished actors. Leonardo DiCaprio was probably not ready for a role like this yet so early in his career. You can tell that veteran actors like Malkovich and Jeremy Irons outshine him regularly. It must have been a good learning experience for him though to work with all of these guys. Lessons he has clearly put to good use. I will never understand how DiCaprio does not have one Oscar on his mantle when he should probably have five. Despite being the weak link in this film, DiCaprio still performs admirably and is able to play the dual roles of Louis and Philippe well. The horrible King Louis could not have been further from peasant Titanic passenger Jack Dawson. I will always admire DiCaprio and the roles he chooses. I remember years ago, he was the first choice to play Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. I would so have loved to see him take on that role, but completely understand why he didn’t.
The Man in the Iron Mask is a solid film held together by a terrific cast of accomplished actors and a young up and coming Leonardo DiCaprio.
So this movie made money solely because of Leonardo DiCaprio, right? Because it really is quite terrible.
DiCaprio is the titular metal-masked man, anonymously imprisoned for being the twin brother of France’s terrible king Louis XIV (also DiCaprio). Watching this, I can totally see why Leo was the subject of so much hate post-Titanic. He is not great here. Of course, he is still very young and playing opposite the phenomenally talented trio of Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), and Gerard Depardieu (Porthos).
Not that these three really shine here, either. They do the best they can with a bad script, but it’s obvious they all deserve much better. Depardieu especially seems to be phoning it in as the lustful Porthos. This Musketeer has always been the group’s comic relief, but his scenes in Iron Mask are often far too over the top and don’t fit the tone of the overall movie. I’m actually surprised that any of these established actors chose to do this movie, given that another Musketeers feature was released in 1993 with a much younger cast (Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Oliver Platt). Maybe these veterans wanted to show these young whippersnappers how Alexandre Dumas is really done? (Unfortunately it’s not like this.)
The Man in the Iron Mask isn’t a complete write off, though. There are some decent action sequences and lots of cool historical costumes, if you’re into that sort of stuff. It’s not quite enough to mask the movie’s other shortcomings, but fun enough to entertain.
The real problem here is that the entire story feels underdeveloped. There is no explanation for why Louis is such a jerk. No exploration of the plight of French peasants during the time. A surrogate father relationship is set up between Louis’ twin and Athos that really goes nowhere. At 600 pages, obviously some of the book needed to be filtered out in the script, but the story is much less interesting without the political intrigue.