The Man in the Iron Mask
directed by Randall Wallace
(United Artists, 1998)

Title notwithstanding, The Man in the Iron Mask does not star baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays both the noble-hearted Philippe (the guy in the mask) as well as the twin brother who put him there, King Louis XIV of France. No, the stars here are the aging heroes brought back from retirement to right a new wrong: the Three Musketeers, dashing swordsmen who are willing to put their lives on the line for justice.

Filling the roles with wit, intellect and burning passion are Jeremy Irons as the pious Aramis, Gerard Depardieu as the lusty Porthos and John Malkovich as the tragic Athos. "Magnificent valor" are the words muttered by Lt. Andre of the Musketeers (Edward Atterton) at a climactic moment when the three, joined by the fourth Musketeer, D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), charge with swords raised and spirits high into certain death. It's a highly charged moment, with the faces of their foes telling even more of the tale than the Musketeers themselves.

There are a few holes in the plot, the biggest of which is the presumption that Philippe, after spending six years locked into an iron mask, would emerge with a perfect complexion, straight white teeth and his sanity entirely intact. But this is, of course, DiCaprio, idol of millions, so all he needs is a few minutes with a competent barber and he's ready to step into his brother's place and fool the nation into believing he is Louis.

DiCaprio, I'll admit, did a fine job carrying both the arrogance and the innocence of the royal brothers. Better still were the Musketeers -- Aramis, seething with intrigue and guilt; Porthos, striving to hold on to his youthful vigor; Athos, raging for vengeance; and D'Artagnan, conflicted between loyalties.

Special kudos must go to Peter Sarsgaard as Athos' son, Raoul -- not so much for what he brought to the character as he brought to someone playing John Malkovich's son. Sarsgaard perfectly mimics Malkovich's speech patterns and mannerisms. It's uncanny.

Filled with lush sets and costumes evoking 17th-century France, The Man in the Iron Mask is a grand way to fill a few hours with swashbuckling good drama. Magnificent valor indeed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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