Film Talk: Looking Back – A swashbuckling ploy in The Man in the Iron Mask

All for one and one for all – John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu and Jeremy Irons in The Man in the Iron Mask

All for one, and – indeed – one for all…

Directed, produced and written by Randall Wallace, 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role as lead character and villain, alongside Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu and Gabriel Byrne. as Musketeers themselves – growing old, retiring and questioning their faith.

Based, of course, on characters from Dumas’ Romances d’Artagnan series (which began with the highly acclaimed The Three Musketeers), the plot of The Man in the Iron Mask is loosely adapted from elements of the series, The Viscount of Bragelonne.

Although it bears similarities in storytelling to Douglas Fairbanks’ flamboyant 1929 film The Iron Mask and the 1939 version directed by James Whale, 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask is unparalleled by those predecessors. and presents the characters of Dumas in all their fascinating splendour. ..

Dominating France with a selfish heart and an iron fist, cruel young King Louis XIV (DiCaprio) squanders the treasury on war and women, condemning his people to a life of poverty.

As the loyal leader of the king’s guard, Captain d’Artagnan (Byrne), protects his sovereign from any plotting against him, though he secretly wishes the king to prove himself a better man.

When Louis’ wandering gaze is drawn to the beautiful Christine (Judith Godrèche), the king has his fiancé sent to the military front, where – as Louis had of course hoped – he is killed.

Yet said fiancé happened to be the son of a very dangerous man – Athos (Malkovich), a former musketeer and now a grieving father bent on revenge.

Athos soon joins a plot perpetrated by his former brother-in-arms Aramis (Irons) who, disillusioned with Louis’ reign, hatches a plan to remove him from the throne. With their faithful friend Porthos (Depardieu) by their side, the ex-musketeers are determined to pursue their just cause, and Aramis believes that a mysterious prisoner known only as the Man in the Iron Mask (also DiCaprio) will be the key.

But in their path stands their old friend d’Artagnan, who will stop at nothing to defend his king, even if it means a deadly conflict with his former brothers…

Although some critics at the time disliked DiCaprio’s performance in his dual role, his portrayal of his polarized characters held up well.

Unsurprisingly, Irons (right at home and in his wheelhouse) and Malkovich (just a fantastic actor capable of anything) are sublime everywhere. Byrne’s turn as the solemn, fair and dedicated d’Artagnan is perfectly balanced with Depardieu’s voracious and indulgent Porthos, and they shine as two of the most beloved characters in classic literature.

With a compelling plot, great dialogue, plenty of action, outlandish costumes, romance, deception and duplicity, The Man in the Iron Mask is a cinephile’s delight and a wonderful adaptation of literature. which – notably – no prior knowledge of the source material is required to enjoy.

Settle in for a quiet evening and let Leo and the boys take you into a world of swashbuckling adventure. On guard!

About Herbert L. Leonard

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