April 1, 2013

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, and John Malkovich

Comments:   Every five years or so, a talented young performer comes around who instantly makes a splash in the world of pop culture.  And who immediately develops a legion of fans.  And then of course because they are so talented and so charismatic, and because the teenagers all swoon over them, inevitably that is when the backlash begins.  It quickly becomes "cool" for everyone to claim that they hate this person and that they are a flash in the pan, and that they will never amount to anything and that they will be gone in two years.

And then, of course, ten years later, everyone finally comes around to thinking, hey wow I just realized that person is actually pretty good.  How come everyone came down so hard on them when they first showed up?  This guy or this girl is actually pretty incredible.

Sound familiar?  Well it should.  This is what happened to Justin Timberlake.  This is what happened to Madonna.  This is what happened to Stephen King when he first hit it big as an author.  This is what happened to Bill Murray when he first showed up on SNL.  This is what happened to Tom Cruise.  None of them were really taken seriously when they first started out.  In fact I would argue this could also happen to Justin Bieber when you look back at him in a decade.

And then there is this guy

Yes, of course at this point it is time to talk about Leonardo DiCaprio.  Who in my opinion is the KING of this particular phenomenon.  Because no one rose any higher any faster than Leo did in the late 90's.  And no one developed a backlash any more venomous than the one he acquired around 1998.  Yes, the minute that Titanic hit theaters, the minute it became the greatest thing in the movie world since sliced bread, the minute he became the biggest actor in Hollywood aside from Tom Hanks... well... you can guess what happened next.

That is when the Leo backlash began.  

And that is when it became very trendy for everyone in the media to talk shit about him.

You will respect my acting authoritah!

The Man in the Iron Mask came out in 1998, and it was the first movie that Leo starred in after Titanic.  And, well, if you know anything about backlashes, that is all I need to say.  It just got shredded by anyone who hated Leomania and who had an agenda.  

This is one of those films that, if you had asked me in 1998, I could have almost guaranteed you would one day show up on a list of underrated movies.  Because it is actually quite good.  It was good at the time, I remember liking it at the time, but I also remember thinking, man there is just no WAY this movie is ever going to develop an audience.  It will never develop an audience because people will just go out of their way right now to hate any movie that Leo is in.

Sure enough, I was right.  

When is the last time you ever heard about this movie?  I bet you haven't heard about it in years.  That is, assuming you have ever heard about it at all.  

The Leo haters got their way.  This movie was just buried in the Hollywood history books.  It was the first movie he did after Titanic, it has one of the best casts of any movie in the late 90's, it even has (future acting legend) Leonardo DiCaprio in an impressive double role.  

Yet because everyone hated Leomania at the time it just got completely trashed.

I am pleased that I finally get a chance to help remedy that.

The Man in the Iron Mask, now in action figures

The Man in the Iron Mask is the story of the famous Three Musketeers.   Their names are Athos (John Malkovich), Porthos (Gerard Depardieu), and Aramis (Jeremy Irons), and if you are familiar with French literature at all you have probably heard of them.

Wait, you say you have never read any French literature about the Three Musketeers?

Well that's okay.  Neither have I.  Let's just say that, in the words of Bill S. Preston, esq., and Ted "Theodore" Logan, the Three Musketeers are three super famous fighting French dudes.  They are also the candy bar guys.

Defenders of French honor, protectors of the crown, also with nougat

The Three Musketeers are the legendary defenders of the King of France, only in this movie now they are old and retired.  And washed up.  And in Gerard Depardieu's case, they have gotten fat.  Basically it is safe to say that the glory days of the Three Musketeers have long since passed.  Now they live out their days in the country doing old person things.

These days it is less musketeering, more shuffleboard

However, there is a problem.

You see, even though they don't really work for the King anymore, even though they mostly live out in the country and are no longer in the Musketeering business, they are suddenly drawn right back in.  

Because, well, there is an asshole on the throne these days and his name is King Louis.


King Louis, aka the foppish angry boy king, is not very well liked by the people of France.  And he is not very well liked by his own royal guard.  Heck, he is not really even all that well liked by his own mother, and that is saying something.

The people in France are ready to revolt.  They are ready to storm the cancel and take out the asshole on the throne.  There is anger in the air.  

The only person who seems to be able to prevent rebellion at all at the moment is the captain of the King's royal guard, D'Artagnan.  The people might hate the king but they love D'Artagnan.  They treat him like he is a god.  And why wouldn't they treat him like a god?  After all, he is the beloved leader of the famed Musketeers.

Right now D'Artagnan is the only person keeping the people from storming the castle and taking out the hated King Louis.

The beloved D'Artagnan, played by Gabriel Byrne

Okay so this is where the movie begins.  

King Louis is on the throne, and he is a dick.  And the Musketeers are all retired and doing old man things, and they no longer work for the King.

And then something changes.

One day, King Louis notices a beautiful teenage girl in his castle named Christine.  And naturally, because it's good to be the king, he decides that he is going to have her.  Right there and then, he decides that he wants her.  So he goes in and he makes his move.

"Oh no, your majesty," Christine says, demurely, "I cannot be with you because I am engaged to a man named Raoul."

"Oh, Raoul, you say?" says the King.  "Well that's interesting.  Because I just suddenly remembered I was going to send him to the front line of the army.  In a week he will probably be dead.  Yeah, so sorry I had to break this to you, sweetheart.  Your fiance is about to be cannon fodder."

The unfortunate Raoul

So anyway, Raoul goes to fight in the army, and Raoul dies.  Just so the king can get a little piece of the crumpet.

And naturally, since Raoul was the son of Athos the Musketeer... well... this does not really go over well.

What?  My son was killed because of a COCKBLOCK?!?

And so there you go.

At this point Athos rallies the Musketeers to reform and get back into action.  And the three of them will fight for what is good in the world, and will take out the King.

The Musketeers vowing to take out King Leo

Now I don't want to give too much of the movie away, since this is a fun one and because I love to write about it.   But let's just say that the assassination attempt doesn't go very well.  Mostly because D'Artagnan is such an amazing bodyguard and because everyone loves him.

A better bodyguard than Kevin Costner

And that is when the big twist of the movie comes in.

At this point, Aramis (Jeremy Irons) mentions to the other two Musketeers, hey you know what?  We don't really have to kill the King.  Nope, I just remembered, there is actually an easier way to do this.  It turns out that the King has a twin brother.  Yeah, he is being held in the Bastille.  He has been locked away there for the past six years.  I just remembered, the King threw him in there and required him to wear an iron mask over his face so that nobody could ever see who he is.

And the other two Musketeers are like, shit.  A twin brother?  A double in case of trouble?  Well how lucky is that?


The king's poor abused twin brother, Philippe

And so that is the story.  

The rest of the film is the Musketeers trying to storm the Bastille and free Philippe.  And once he is out and free of his mask they have to train him how to act and look and behave like a king (here's a hint: stop smiling and being nice and helping women when they fall down, act more like an asshole, start trying to nail everyone.)

Athos instructing Philippe how to pass as the king

And then the last hour of the movie is the Musketeers trying to slip into the castle and replace Louis with Philippe.  Without the famous bodyguard D'Artagnan catching on.  Who, I should point out, also happens to be best friends with all three of them.

Honor and things like duty and loyalty to your country soon start to get very complicated.

I swear to God, let me go.  Or this kid will never make Django Unchained.

The Man in the Iron Mask isn't the best movie I have ever seen.  I mean, you have five actors doing five entirely different accents.  And some of the twists in the story are beyond silly.  And of course looking at Gerard Depardieu's naked ass isn't something I would recommend to anyone.  

But I don't really care, because the movie is fun.  

I remember really liking The Man in the Iron Mask when I saw it in a theater back in 1998.  And like I said before, I remember immediately thinking, hey one day this is going to wind up on an underrated movies list.  Because the hatred for Leonardo DiCaprio was just that immense at the time.  NOBODY was going to take him seriously in a double role as the lead of a movie.  Not in 1998 they weren't.  Not in a historical drama they weren't.  At the time they just laughed at him and called this a stupid teenybopper film.

But hey, here is a little tip.  It shouldn't surprise you.  Leonardo DiCaprio is really good in it, just like he is good in everything.  He is particularly good when he is playing the timid Philippe.  You watch this movie now and you think, hey how come people didn't really take him seriously back then?  Even back in the late 90's it was evident he was more than just your every day teen heartthrob.

"You dare to impersonate me?   Don't you know we all hate Leonardo DiCaprio?!  I mean, come on, this is the late 90's.  Entertainment Weekly is going to rip you apart!"

The Man in the Iron Mask.  One of my favorite little guilty pleasures of the late 90's.  A movie with a great cast.  In particular, Gabriel Byrne is outstanding as the heroic D'Artagnan.

This is a movie that has never gotten the respect that it should, simply because of who starred in and when it came out.  So come on, let's change that.  I mean, it's not like King Philippe and King Louis were played by Justin Bieber.  I mean, fuck Justin Bieber.  Fuck that guy.  Leonardo DiCaprio is way better, and he is considered to be an American treasure now.  These days he is considered to be a really good actor.

I mean, this isn't 1998 anymore.  Right?

All for one, and one for all.  Now, let us give the Amigo Salute.

P.S.  By the way, when Django Unchained came out, I remember it being a really big deal because people announced, "For the first time ever, Leonardo DiCaprio gets to play a villain!"  Bullshit.  He played King Louis back in 1998.  Nice try, Hollywood revisionists.

The Candy Bar Guys and Lord Foppy McFopsington

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about The Man in the Iron Mask:

Pretty good for a Leo film - 2 March 2001
As an avid hater of the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, I nearly didn't give this film a chance. Oh, I am so glad my friend dragged me to see it. Gabriel Byrne was amazing and Gerard Depardieu managed to lighten a truly dramatic film. And Leo wasn't half bad either. He managed to even impress me.

Definitely worth seeing for Byrne's performance alone.

Better than you might think - 9 October 2000
Don't be put off of this film because it is a period drama, or because it stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

The story is based on a myth, and after watching the film for the first time, I felt compelled to research the myth myself. The most convincing parts of the film are the acting of the supporting characters (notably Byrne, Malkovich and Irons) and the musical score.

Certain scenes involving the older stars were some of the most powerful and compelling I have ever seen, particularly the one in the tomb where they discuss their plot to replace the king.

The film does not rely too heavily on the swashbuckling appeal of the musketeers, but rather on the development of individual characters and the relationships between them.

It is DiCaprio's best performance, though I admit that that is not saying much and his performance is nothing on that of the older men.

The plot is slightly unbelievable in places but if this and possible historical inaccuracies are overlooked, this is a very good film.

Overlooked and Underrated - 30 December 2001
When I first saw this movie in a theatre, the last thing I'd seen good ol' Leo in was TITANIC. Needless to say, I was kind of expecting the same mediocre, incomplete performance. I was pleasantly surprised by an entire cast (Leonardo DiCaprio included) that could actually ACT! The story, based pretty loosely on the Dumas novel, is interesting, and all the characters are easy to understand. Some of my favorite actors are in this film, among them Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovich, and Gabriel Byrne, who comprise a powerful Musketeer group. Even DiCaprio portrays his characters to near perfection with the right flare and sympathy as called for, but would it have been impossible for him to at least attempt an accent more appropriate for the king of France in the 17th century other than that of a Californian? I guess that's only a small gripe, but visually, this is a spectacular feast for the eyes. This was Randall Wallace's debut as a director (his last big project before this was writing the screenplay for Braveheart) and I believe he did a remarkable job, also contributing much of his effort to the script. Another gorgeous aspect of this movie is the lush, sweeping and poignant score provided by Nick Glennie-Smith. I bought the soundtrack on CD, and I only wish that it could be longer! All in all, this is a very enjoyable flick - no matter what you're into: history, romance, drama, adventure, even a little comedy. It's all here, and I highly recommend this overlooked film. 9/10

So underrated! -12 December 2012
That's very sad. It's too underrated, and this movie is really good. The story is good and emotional (not in girly way), the cast is nice and talented. I don't know what people were expecting more. Leonardo DiCaprio is such an annoying little brat here, but acts so well. Jeremy Irons delivers such a powerful and empathetic character in a way that you can actually feel and see in his eyes the pain he's going through the whole movie. At the end you find out why Aramis was acting that way towards his old friends that you wonder how he resisted and not broke down in any moment. We have some comic relief coming from Gérard Depardieu's Porthos. He manages to calm down the tense atmosphere and give some sense of relieve to others as well. He is a very talented actor, and he really made me laugh in this.

It deserved some more nominations for sure. At least DiCaprio and Irons whom gave some really wonderful performances. It's very sad. I hope in the future the users will rate this higher. It doesn't deserve 6,3. At least a 7. AT LEAST!

Worth watching, very good movie, way underrated. It stands in the 3rd place in my own personal favorite movies of all time.

 Fun, entertaining movie! - 23 June 2003

I never saw this movie in the theaters (it seemed like another Leo-mania "no REAL talent" type of film), but I remember a friend recommending it to me one night about 5 years back. Since I love sword fighting movies/3 musketeer flicks, I just had to give it a try. Plus, I had seen the previews, and they looked interesting. Well, let me tell you...from the opening scene to the ending credits, I was hooked with this film! It grabbed my attention, and was just pure fun!! I don't know why this movie got such a low rating on IMDB. It may not be a "masterpiece", but it's surely a great, fun, entertaining film!

First of all, the cast is great. I mean, have you seen so many good actors in one film?? Byrnes, Depardieu, Malcovich, DiCaprio, and Irons. All such a WONDERFUL cast, with good acting. I liked Leo's duel roles too. At first I thought it would be cheesy, but Leo delivered it well! He played both roles of Louis (bad king) and Phillipe (good king) so diversely! I liked how he had you loving one king, and totally despising the other! Someone also mentioned the way Leo totally changed characters with his "eyes". THe "EYES" say a lot, and Leo nailed it. I almost had to ask myself if this was the SAME actor playing Phillipe!

The plot was good (eh...might have been predictable, but still...great), the cinematagraphy was awesome, the music was moving, the sword fighting/action was cool! I absolutely loved Gabriel Byrnes in this movie. He was so great as D'Artagnan (sp?). John Malcovich was perfect for his role of Athos too. I really felt his pain. I have both the VHS (older) and the DVD version (hey, it was on sale for 9 bucks!! lol) of The Man In The Iron Mask, and the DVD version (although not a whole lot of extras) has a nice directors commentary. It really tells the director's vision for the film and all the behind the scene info. I STILL can't believe that this movie was his FIRST film!!

Very entertaining movie. I really don't know why people dogged this movie so much. It was SOOOO much better than that "OTHER" more RECENT musketeer movie that came out called "THE Musketeer". UGghgh...what a dissapointment!

But The Man In The Iron MASK is DEFINITELY a movie worth giving a try.

I REALLY enjoyed this movie! - 6 March 2001
Some may complain about how Philippe's face should have looked after 6 years in the mask, or the corny jail breakout or the lack of attention to true historical background. But for goodness sakes...it's a MOVIE! It's *supposed* to be entertaining...and boy, it sure delivers! I thought all of the performances were excellent...especially those of all 4 of the actors who played the musketeers (Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Gérard Depardieu). Best musketeers I've EVER seen in a movie.and I've seen many. I also thought Leo D. did a great job -- given what he had to work at...showing 2 such completely extreme personalities. Greatly enjoyed the bits of humor, the fantastic scenery, the nice cinematography and fabulous costumes! I've rented this movie several times, and think it's time I finally went out and bought a copy of my own, as it gets even better after several viewings :o) I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you love period pictures.

Underrated Film a Pleasant Surprise - 20 January 2000
The only reason I rented this video is because the new releases I wanted to see were checked out. I passed over "The Man in the Iron Mask" for many weeks since it appeared on the shelves because, for one thing, I'm not a big fan of period pieces which feature performers attempting to speak in whatever dialect that's required for their role. Even if the performer has mastered the accent, I still find it a distracting affectation. Also, some accents wear on me after awhile, especially when the whole cast is speaking in one that I'm not particularly fond of - I like French accents, but it would've also started wearing on me if everyone {besides the French} spoke with a French or attempted French accent. I found it refreshing that the performers in this movie weren't required to use a foreign accent, or more precisely, an accent foreign to them. I don't think it took away from the characters' authenticity at all; the actors were all very convincing, even moreso, without an affected accent.

Neither am I a big fan of swashbuckling, action type movies nor romantic movies, so the subject matter of this movie didn't attract me, nor did Leonardo DiCaprio's picture on the jacket. I hadn't even heard of Gabriel Byrne or the supporting female actresses, but having seen Malkovich, Irons and Depardieu, I knew there would be quality acting in this film, so, having grown bored with browsing, I rented it. I had no idea I was in for such a pleasant surprise, which would bring about a few first time experiences for me as well.

The first first experience for me was that I wanted to see it again - and again & again! I've never wanted to see a movie again within such a short period of time, much less repeatedly. I was more than just impressed with this movie, I was enchanted by it. Every performer, even those with bit parts, did an outstanding job. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio handled his dual role quite well; unlike Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons, who all have and bring a special magic to their performances, Leo still effectively conveyed the differences in his characters, not only in tone and affect, but in the way he was able to transform his eyes from the "sad puppy" eyes of Phillipe to the cold, steely eyes of Louis.>

I found the story very interesting (not having read the novel first, I wasn't thrown off by the relationship between D'Artagnon and Queen Ann) and the scenerey & costumes were wonderful. I loved the hairstyles on Aramis, Athos and Porthos, but thought D'Artagnon's hairstyle (severely parted way over on one side of his head) was very unflattering.

The music was so moving that I actually bought the soundtrack, which I've never been inclined to do as a result of a movie...

And - another first - I've never in all my 44 years been so totally captivated by not only a character (D'Artagnon), but by an actor as well: Gabriel Byrne. Seeing him for the first time in this movie prompted me to rent more of his films; there is something in him which transcends his characters that touches my very soul. And wouldn't you know that this newly discovered "soul mate" is someone I won't even get to meet!

All-in-all, I never expected a video I halfheartedly rented one evening to be one of the best movies I've seen in my life --which has prompted yet my next first experience in writing/submitting my comments on a movie.

* My favorite scene in The Man in the Iron Mask:

The scene at the ball where the Mustketeers attempt the switch is my favorite.  I love the way the director shot that.  And the ending is cool.

The Man in the Iron Mask at the IMDB

The Man in the Iron Mask at Wikipedia

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