Man in the Iron Mask

6 out of 10


Fine Portrait of a Psychopath

Errol Flynn. Robert Maxwell. Peter Reeves. Until you meet a true psychopath, you can never begin to believe that anyone so nice could be so callously manipulatively evil, devoid of conscience and yet act so, in such a nonchalant fashion. Indeed, only since working for Mr Reeves, can I testify to the staggering realism of Di Caprio`s King Louis XIV and that it is not miscasting as others have claimed. Painting such a starkly true-to-life portrait of a callous, sick psychopath, it`ll send shivers down the spine of anyone who has ever encountered one. For this is no off-the-shelf ordinary baddie, but an insidious evil beyond description. And, he is right to do so, for he was a King who so bankrupted France that it became effectively impossible for his sons and heirs to prevent total economic collapse, the French Revolution and their one-way trip to Madame Guillotine.

Although entertaining, regrettably the rest of the film is not up to his performance, as the Studio clearly meant it to be a costume tearjerker for the US market. And how it shows! In this historically unconvincing France, for example, D`Artagnon takes a bite from a tomato to quell a rioting crowd, even though they were "known" to be as poisonous as cyanide until the Nineteenth Century. More to the point, Alexandre Dumas`s original books had sword fights on almost every street corner with the Musketeers slicing up their enemies, like electric lawnmowers, yet in this film, the few fights there are, thrown in as an afterthought, largely consist of little more than a punch in the gob. Instead, they`ve laden it with the sort of sentimentality that chalks up telephone number profits for Disney, but here, merely leaves the audience yawning in the aisles, with a tearful John Malkovich (Athos) being as credible as Billy Clinton claiming he doesn`t like sex.

The cultural erosion runs deeper though. They cast most of the top roles with Anglophones (particularly the heroes), but used Francophone's for all the minor roles and extras, creating a totally incongruous mixture. Even Porthos, the only hero played by a Frenchman (Gerald Depardieu) is just a joke stereotype with comic book lines, unable to think beyond sex, food and farting. Hence, the clever Anglo`s ride over the hill to save France from a bunch of stupid, debauched French stereotypes. But, then again, why should we worry? The tactless end credits clearly tell us, "all organizations and persons, live or dead are entirely fictitious" and, as we all know, the Jesuits, King Louis XIV and the Dutch army are all figments of our imagination, just like the rest of the world outside Los Angeles.

Finally, I am forced to admit that, despite the overwhelming and creepy realism of Di Caprio`s psychopathic King, I am left uncomfortable that this tame US-made film is being so well received as an action adventure, while the French-made "D`Artagnon`s Daughter", realistic, full of stunts and daring sword fights (and I thought was much better), was so panned by the film industry just a couple of years ago. Is this an accident? Or just the work of a psychopath, buried deep in the film industry?

A brilliant Di Caprio props up mediocrity

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett