The Man in the Iron Mask

on March 13, 1998 by Wade Major
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   Those seeking a faithful adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Man in the Iron Mask" would do better to dig up Mike Newell's outstanding 1977 telefilm starring Richard Chamberlain than endure this insufferable excuse for an epic from writer/director Randall Wallace. One of the most catastrophically awful adaptations of a major work of literature ever perpetrated on the silver screen, "Braveheart" writer Wallace's new film would scarcely even merit a theatrical release if not for the inherent charms of the story and the agglomeration of A-list talent attached to it.
   Dumas originally built his sequel to "The Three Musketeers" around the fictitious premise that King Louis XIV of France (Leonardo DiCaprio) may have had a twin brother whom he imprisoned in the Bastille and shrouded with an iron mask to ward off any challenges to his monarchy. As the King exhibits an increasing tendency toward megalomania, however, the three original musketeers (Gerard Depardieu as Porthos, Jeremy Irons as Aramis, John Malkovich as Athos) emerge from their "retirement" and concoct a plan to swap the King with his twin, a gentle boy named Phillippe who knows nothing of his royal lineage. Sadly, they must do without the cooperation of D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), who is now the loyal head of the King's musketeers.
   That the film works on any level at all is a credit to the resilience of Dumas' plotting and the earnest efforts of Byrne and Irons, who seem to be the only members of the Anglo-Franco American cast more concerned with drama than pop entertainment. Gerard Depardieu, whose considerable talents are mostly squandered on a buffoonish one-note portrayal, also deserves some credit for providing a modicum of genuine comic relief in a film otherwise devoid of humor or excitement.
   None of these factors, however, come close to salvaging the project from the fatal miscasting of Leonardo DiCaprio and the embarrassment of Wallace's writing and direction. Never seeming to be more than a contemporary kid in period duds, DiCaprio stumbles through the dual role with predictable superficiality, fumbling Wallace's already ham-fisted dialogue so consistently that he literally drags the entire film down around him.
   As if it were possible to make matters worse, the picture also suffers from overwrought production values resembling more a parody of the era than an authentic recreation. Nick Glennie Smith's bombastic, crescendo-laden score is particularly offensive, punctuating every scene with such unwarranted climactic intensity that the arrival of the real climax almost pales by comparison.    Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by Randall Wallace. Written by Randall Wallace.Produced by Randall Wallace and Russell Smith. A United Artists release. (Period Adventure). Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and some sensuality/nudity. Running Time 132 min.
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