Today, with a so many movies available at the drop of a hat thanks to streaming video, one of the things I like to do is go back and catch early performances of some of today’s most popular performers.
With that in mind, as a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, in such recent films as THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), DJANGO UNCHAINED (2013), and THE DEPARTED (2006), it was fun to turn back the clock and catch one of his earlier performances in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998), now available on streaming video.
In THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the dual role of King Louis XIV and his twin brother Philippe, the titled man in the iron mask.
Young King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) rules France with an iron fist, keeping the country poor, starving and miserable. The now retired three musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich) and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) understand that a change is needed in order to save the country. Only D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) remains loyal to the king.
It’s discovered that the mysterious imprisoned man in the iron mask is really the king’s twin brother, and Aramis hatches a plot to free the man and then switch him with the real king in order to restore sanity to the crown. And of course, young Philippe (Leonardo DiCaprio) is everything his twin brother is not: sensitive, caring, and thoughtful.
As the three musketeers reunite to carry out their plan to replace the king with his identical twin in order to save France, D’Artagnan finds himself pitted against his former friends, with orders from the king to do whatever is necessary to stop the plot from happening, even if it means killing his former associates.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK is a decent enough movie, and it’s fairly entertaining, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as fun as the Richard Lester’s 1970s romps THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974).
I watched it specifically to catch an earlier DiCaprio performance that I had missed the first time around way back when in 1998, and in this regard, I wasn’t disappointed. While I prefer the DiCaprio of today, he’s actually quite good here in the dual role of King Louis XIV and his poor brother Philippe.
Of the two roles, I preferred him as the evil king, as his performance is a nice foreshadowing of things to come, specifically his role as the sinister Calvin Candie in DJANGO UNCHAINED. He’s good as Philippe as well, but Louis XIV is certainly the meatier role, and much more satisfying to watch.
The rest of the cast is decent, as they should be, considering the quality of the actors involved here. Jeremy Irons makes a respectable Aramis, and he’s strong throughout the movie, but I could give or take Gerard Depardieu as Porthos. Only John Malkovich truly stands out in a very sincere and riveting performance as Athos, who’s anguished in this story because the king had his son murdered.
Gabriel Byrne isn’t bad as D’Artagan, but I’ve seen him better in other movies.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK was written and directed by Randall Wallace. Wallace also wrote the screenplay for the Mel Gibson epic BRAVEHEART (1995). His screenplay for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, based on the novels by Alexandre Dumas, is adequate enough. It tells an entertaining story but falls short of accomplishing anything grand. It’s not hopping and humorous like the Richard Lester films from the 1970s, nor is it riveting enough to be considered a rousing adventure in its own right. It plays like a straightforward historical drama, and there’s nothing wrong with this, but in the same breath, it didn’t wow me either.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK looks fine— it’s a great looking period piece with excellent sets and colorful costumes— but don’t expect many exciting action sequences. While there is sword play here and there, none of it is all that electrifying.
The film is driven by its acting performances, and is carried by the presence of an ensemble of veteran actors. Among these actors was an up and coming youngster- Leonardo DiCaprio- who probably, with the exception of John Malkovich, delivers the best performance in the movie. It’s a nice precursor to DiCaprio’s future roles which so far, have taken him along the very successful road to stardom, where now he’s the one who is the accomplished veteran actor.
While I can’t say that I loved THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, I did enjoy it, and I did have fun watching the Leonardo DiCaprio of a decade ago begin to strut his stuff.