The Man in the Iron Mask
Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons
For the next entry in this series, we’ll skip the near-impossible to find tv movie Mirad (1997) and jump to Jeremy Irons’ next item in his filmography: The Man in the Iron mMask (1998). What to say about this film, when it some of the most middle of the road filmmaking I’ve even seen? This isn’t to completely discredit the movie, but it is a kind of film Hollywood doesn’t make too often anymore: the medium-budgeted film. No franchise expectations as an adaptation, but merely a historical period piece.
It’s similar to Paul W.S. Anderson’s The There Musketeers adaptation, in that it doesn’t have enough so-bad-its-good moments to keep the film alive. Instead, while this film is certainly more competent than Anderson’s disappointment (save for Orlando Bloom’s gloriously campy performance), The Man in the Iron Mask is just that: competent. It’s mostly notable for all the big names attached, and the small but notable qualities they add to the film. John Malkovich has some hilarious scenes that emerge from his particular acting style, which often amounts to over enunciating his lines. Coupled with his musketeer role as Athos, aka “the angry one”, Malkovich provides a few (unintentional laughs), particularly within his first scene in the film.
Gerard Depardieu plays, Porthos, aka “the comedic relief”. He doesn’t get much to do unfortunately, so the movie shoves some conflict that he’s suicidal because his lust for life no longer satiates him. This results in Jeremy Irons as Aramis, aka “the priestly one”, conniving a way to save him in a skit that is rather humorous. Irons here plays another priest character (a Jesuit even!), who is also basically “the smart one”, as opposed to his tendency to play characters tainted with sin. Gabriel Byrne is D’Artagnan, aka “the loyal one”, and if it wasn’t clear by now, this film distills characters to their bare essence and works from there. And of course, we can’t forget Leonardo DiCaprio (the main reason this film made money in a post-Titanic world) as both the corrupt King Louis XIV and his twin brother Philippe, playing whiny aristocracy and Perfect Cinnamon Role, respectively.
All the performers do a good job, but the film is passable. Part of the 90s charm of this movie is because it’s full of 90s men acting in a thoroughly 90s period piece. Of course this doesn’t save the film from its more tedious moments, as the script has some clunky set up and payoff. Furthermore, the film just isn’t that notable, as there isn’t much to comment on aside from the more nitpick criticisms I could give.
Irons plays another Jesuit priest, which makes it clear he is typecast as more that just lecherous people, but also saintly figures as well. Either way, his characters are also usually smart or cunning in some way, people coming from an upper class background or cultural clout. And in the end, The Man in the Iron Mask is another literary adaptation to add to his high brow portfolio, a competent and ultimately welcome addition to his career.