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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Musketeers Gallop Back in High Style




Longing for some relief from the noxious cloud of cynical intrigue and grim, grubby Realpolitik rising from the Kremlin and exuding from the Duma these days? Then leap astride your trusty charger, unsheathe your battle sword with a flourish, and hie thee to American House of Cinema with all the panache you can muster for the rip-roaring 1998 film adventure, "The Man in the Iron Mask."


Yes, the Three Musketeers and their gallant comrade D'Artagnan are back on screen once again in this, the umpteenth cinematic retelling of Dumas' famous swashbuckler. And the swash is buckled in highest style here, as adapter-director Randall ("Braveheart") Wallace fields a dream team of lead players, well supported by a promising newcomer. This is certainly the best Musketeer film since Errol Flynn and his ilk were crossing steel in days of yore.


Wallace adds just enough emotional weight to the tale to keep it well-grounded and rolling steady through its melodramatic twists and turns. Its chief pathos is the burden of age, guilt and regret. For the story begins at the end of the heroes' legendary careers; their days of glory have long gone by, and this is the last hurrah. The sense of loss, of living in a mean and diminished time, provides a nice counterpoint to the narrative's buoyant, boyish main line.


As the movie opens, the famous company of fighters has been sundered. The three graying Musketeers are in retirement: Aramis (Jeremy Irons) to the priesthood; Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) to wenching and whining (chiefly about his prostate); and Athos (John Malkovich) to the raising of his son. Only D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) is still in active service, keeping a careful watch over young King Louis (Leonardo DiCaprio).


This is hard duty indeed, for the boy-king is a royal brat -- a brat with the power of life and death over his subjects. While he indulges in the frivolous pleasures of court, his people starve. His solution to the problem is to distribute spoiled meat to the populace, and only the bold action of D'Artagnan -- whose devotion to Louis seems inexplicable -- averts a violent uprising.


Then Louis turns his freely roaming eye on the fiance of Athos' son. He sends his rival to the wars, where he most conveniently dies. The grieving Athos thus becomes a blood-sworn enemy of the king -- and all those who serve him. Athos joins with the other two Musketeers in a plot to replace the murderous tyrant with a mysterious young man named Phillipe (also Leonardo DiCaprio), who has been locked in a dungeon for years, his head encased in -- yes -- an iron mask.


Wallace weaves and unwinds the story's tangled skeins with admirable dexterity and at a brisk pace which is vital to our enjoyment, for this sort of thing can't survive any dull patches that might let us think too much about what's going on. But while there's no "thought-tormented music" here, the film is not mindless, either; the action is driven by character and situation -- not special effects, nor a need to goose the audience with yet another car chase.


The best thing Wallace does is play the story completely straight. Although there's plenty of humor present (supplied chiefly by Depardieu), there's no sly, self-conscious "irony" in Wallace's approach, no lightly mocking "commentary" on the story's antique conception of honor and valor. At the same time, the film never takes itself too seriously or loses sight of the fact that its raison d'?tre is nothing but pure entertainment.


The acting is solid throughout, especially from Irons, Byrne and Malkovich.


DiCaprio, too, does well in his dual role, perhaps relishing a stretch after the cardboard character he was saddled with in "Titanic."


"Iron Mask" is not a great film, but if you go with moderate expectations, you'll be rewarded with an evening of rousing good fun.