Jeremy Irons

Watchmen (2019) s01e05 – Little Fear of Lightning

Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a Tim Blake Nelson “Watchmen” episode. And for my sins, they gave me one.

Turns out Nelson was in New York for the giant squid attack; as a youth he looked like a cheaper, slightly nerdier Tom Holland and was a Jehovah’s Witness out to preach last minute Jesus to the sinners in New Jersey. He’s in a funhouse when the squid teleports in, covering him in mirrors… which contributed to his origin story because “Watchmen” origin stories are really, really obvious. Though maybe we’ve just gone past where origin stories are going to be any good. “Seeing” the squid attack is all right, for a moment I wondered if Watchmen: The Movie would play any better with it cut in but no because the movie’s still shit and it’s just a faked CG shot pulling back from screaming teen Nelson in Jersey to New York City and the squid.

Turns out the squid attack becomes the subject matter for a 1993 Steven Spielberg film shot in black and white with a girl in a red coat being the only color element because, sure, fuck Schindler’s List, let’s just assume Spielberg’s actually as craven as Damon Lindelof. The Schindler’s List thing will be probably be “Watchmen”’s cheapest moment just because it’s not an Easter egg, they go in hard on explaining it because Lindelof doesn’t do subtle. Even when it seems like he’s going to do subtle, he turns it around and does obvious. In this episode too, at the end, when I was regretting saying nice things about the first couple episodes in particular how well they were directed, because this episode is terribly directed. Steph Green takes the obvious script and somehow makes it even more obvious, which is particularly bad since there are a handful of elements feigning subtly and she really doesn’t want to do anything subtle.

Nelson’s got a life changing experience as he uncovers some of the conspiracy… the pedestrian, contrived conspiracy (again, talking to Lindelof about comic books and what’s good about them must be a mind-numbing experience, doubtlessly even worse than reading one of his terrible comic books) so it ought to—theoretically—give Nelson some fodder as for his performance. Only it doesn’t because it’s so poorly handled. They do the thing where they refer to the opening flashback as one of Nelson’s memories, because the target audience is too stupid to remember forty minutes ago. It’s not condescending though; “Watchmen” isn’t technically superlative enough (anymore) to condescend.

Oh. And Jeremy Irons. So richest man in the world Jeremy Irons used shitty half-inch VHS to record his monologues to the future back in the eighties, making him the eighties equivalent of, you guessed it, a Republic serial villain. Also, for the flashback, they do light makeup on Irons, so he like a fit sixty year-old instead of his usual fit seventy year-old. Because… no de-aging budget? Unless it was a creative decision, which would make sense as there aren’t any good ones this episode.

Also what is the point in making Jean Smart such a useless character. It was always going to waste the character but it also wastes Smart. Though I suppose the only person who manages not to be wasted is Regina King, because she’s able to act past the writing and direction.

Though her writing is really bad this episode.

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.

The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.

In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.

The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.

Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.

Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995, John McTiernan)

Until the tacked on finish, Die Hard with a Vengeance can do little wrong. It doesn’t aim particularly high, just high enough–it’s a symphony of action movie action (and violence) set in New York City; the city’s geography (at least movie familiar geography) plays less and less of a part as the runtime progresses, but director McTiernan and his crew are doing a large scale action movie over a wide setting and a constrained time period. The film takes place, without the tack on, in maybe nine hours. With the tack on, a few more.

Most of the city in crisis action happens in the first forty minutes or so. New York wakes up to a bombing in a department store. The unidentified terrorist (Jeremy Irons) calls the cops to demand Bruce Willis perform various tasks to prevent further bombings. On his first assignment, Willis involves local shopkeeper Sam Jackson. Irons likes the idea of Willis having a sidekick, so Jackson stays on. Larry Bryggman is Willis’s disapproving boss, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, and Anthony Peck are his disapproving coworkers. Willis, separated from his wife since the last Die Hard, is failing about to be fired. Much of the first half of the movie is Willis complaining about his hangover; whoever’s job it was to make his eyes blood shot did great work.

Once they’re teamed up, Irons changes from tasks to riddles, giving Willis and Jackson this amount of time to get to this New York location and solve this riddle. Along the way, Willis and Jackson bicker. Despite it being Willis’s franchise, Jackson is there to be the audience’s anchor. For a while, McTiernan wants Vengeance to seem reasonable… plausible… not entirely unrealistic. Soon after Irons finally shows up on screen–with mostly silent flunkies Nick Wyman and Sam Phillips (the third tier East German guys make more of an impression–Vengeance doesn’t care about its supporting villains)–Willis finally catches on to what’s going on and starts shooting people. Only, even though there were a bunch of cops around, he and Jackson are on their own now. It’s just their action movie. Albeit one with a very wide setting.

The first stunning action sequence is when Willis has to jump on a subway train. Vengeance has been pretty up until this point. Lovely photography from Peter Menzies Jr.–the film takes the passage of the sun through the day rather seriously–fine editing from John Wright, excellent production design from Jackson De Govia. But it’s not until half an hour in and Willis pulling up a subway grate and jumping down does Vengeance show off its technical expertise. Once it does, however, the floodgates are open. The scale of the subsequent action varies, but McTiernan and his crew are always executing these grandiose, complication sequences with utter success. It’s a breathtaking ride. And a lot of fun, because Willis and Jackson are a fun pair. Sure, Jonathan Hensleigh’s attempts at solving racial prejudice through male action movie bonding is exceptionally naive and occasionally way too pat, but Willis and Jackson do manage to sell it. Their performances, even when the material’s thin–like the tack on finale–are outstanding.

Ditto Irons. Irons gets to relish though. Neither Willis or Jackson have relish-worthy material. Irons just gets to run wild. He’s the action movie villain in the “realistic” action movie. Only since he’s got all these henchmen doing the action villainry (for the most part), Menzies and McTiernan just have to make sure he never looks out of place and he’s fine.

McTiernan and editor Wright do well no matter what kind of action is going on. Willis surviving a flooded tunnel has just the right amount of tension, a bomb detonating in a middle school has just the right amount of tension. McTiernan toggles between the small scale Willis in a Die Hard movie getting out a situation with the very real terror involved in the school evacuation and so on. Though, in some ways, by keeping Willis (and Jackson) separate from that impending tragedy, Vengeance is able to cop out of having Willis in a “realistic” thriller. The real stuff is juxtaposed against his adventure with missing gold and fake accented Germans and whatever else.

Besides Willis, Jackson, and Irons, the rest of the cast is similarly superb. Bryggman especially. But also Greene and Camp, who slow burn throughout the film before getting their own big sequence. Peck’s good. Kevin Chamberlin’s fun as the bomb guy. Robert Sedgwick’s one of Irons’s thugs who makes more impression than Wyman or Phillips. Heck so does Joe Zaloom as the contrived action movie flunky Willis gets late in the film. Vengeance isn’t about the supporting villains.

Most of the Willis vs. thugs action is just bridging stuff between him and Jackson moving on to their next set piece, which is fine. It distinguishes Vengeance, especially since McTiernan and his crew excel more during the set pieces. The execution of Vengeance is just as important as the content executed, which is another reason the finale is such a disappointment. It’s an exterior night sequence, which–given any thought–fails all credibility tests (even for Die Hard with a Vengeance, though especially given the work put into the film’s procedural constraints). It’s a shame the finish doesn’t live up to the rest of the film, both in terms of narrative (it’s thoughtless) and execution (the big foil is a spotlight distracting Willis).

Not a worthy finish to the previous, sublime two hours.

But Vengeance is still a success. It can’t not be, not with the heights McTiernan and Wright reach; you can’t fault an action movie too much for having a perfunctory action movie finish. To be fair, the first ending–before the tack on–is phenomenal even in its absurd grandiosity.

Good score from Michael Kamen. Great production values. Excellent performances.

In five-dollar words, Die Hard with a Vengeance is so elegantly executed, it transcends the very tropes it functions on (as well as the script’s faults). Just not through the very end.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh, based on characters created by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by McTiernan and Michael Tadross; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Samuel L. Jackson (Zeus Carver), Jeremy Irons (Simon Gruber), Larry Bryggman (Insp. Walter Cobb), Graham Greene (Joe Lambert), Colleen Camp (Connie Kowalski), Anthony Peck (Ricky Walsh), Nick Wyman (Mathias Targo), Sam Phillips (Katya), Kevin Chamberlin (Charles Weiss), and Joe Zaloom (Jerry Parks).


Moonlighting (1982, Jerzy Skolimowski)

I’ve been trying to see Moonlighting for ten or eleven years… first forgetting about it, then putting it off for a widescreen DVD (remember the excitement, back in 1999, when all of a sudden… films were going to come out OAR? No longer a question of if, just of when?), and finally further putting it off, worried the content was going to require near infinite attention. The film does not require infinite attention, in fact it’s very straightforward and self-explanatory (that self-explanatory tag might have something to do with Jeremy Irons narrating the whole thing). It’s definite letdown after so long, but it’s also a letdown after the film’s first fifteen or twenty minutes. Moonlighting is more about tone than anything else–it creates a sense of dread and propels the viewer through it; the film cuts off during the most important scene and ends, in hindsight, it’s a predictable close, but still unexpected. Besides some third act red herrings, Skolimowski spends minutes twenty through ninety-five telling the viewer he’s not going to have some predictable ending. But he’s in a corner–either a resolution to the ominous dread or the predictable finish.

The big problem is the film opens with Irons and four other men–he’s the only one who speaks English (film’s about Polish workers illegally renovating a London flat) and he doesn’t just become the film’s focus, he’s the whole show. And Irons is up to it. His performance is outstanding, but his character isn’t believable. Skolimowski holds back valuable information–for example, say he introduces a totally illogical response or thought from the character at minute thirty, then explains it at minute seventy. I suppose if Irons’s character was really a British guy doing his best with a reserved accent or he was fleeing Poland, the wait might be all right… certainly if the film were building toward the reveal. But it isn’t. That little thing at minute thirty is a line in the narration or an expression. It means absolutely nothing, but it just doesn’t work for a half hour. And the last shot–I forgot about the last shot… the last shot is fine. Maybe the third to last shot. Skolimowski sets it up in neon to be one of the last shots when it gets set up fifteen minutes earlier.

Moonlighting would work as a novel, as a short story, maybe even as a comic book… but as a film… no. I kept wondering if there were no narration, would I be able to follow it? The film would definitely be more interesting–the content living up to the visuals (Skolimowski does a great job with composition and editing). A movie is a short-term investment. This one is ninety-five minutes. The majority of the middle section is spent judging Irons or is supposed to be spent judging Irons, with Skolimowski tossing information up every five minutes to try to change whatever opinion has already formed.

I’m glad I saw the film–Skolimowski’s a fantastic director and Irons is great–but I probably could have waited another ten years no problem.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Barrie Vince; music by Stanley Myers; production designer, Tony Woollard; produced by Skolimowski, Mark Shivas and Michael White; released by Miracle Films.

Starring Jeremy Irons (Nowak), Eugene Lipinski (Banaszak), Jirí Stanislav (Wolski), Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz (Kudaj), Dorothy Zienciowska (Lot Airline Girl), Edward Arthur (Immigration Officer), Denis Holmes (Neighbor), Renu Setna (Junk Shop Owner), David Calder (Supermarket Manager), Judy Gridley (Supermarket Supervisor), Claire Toeman (Supermarket Cashier) and Catherine Harding (Lady Shoplifter).


Kafka (1991, Steven Soderbergh)

I wonder how the producers sold Jeremy Irons on the film. It was his first major role after his Oscar and it immediately followed, so he probably hadn’t won when he started filming Kafka… however, imagine if they’d advertised the film as “Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons running through the empty streets of Prague.”

Kafka’s Soderbergh’s first film after Sex, Lies, and Videotape and it’s an exceptional disappointment. All Soderbergh has to do in Kafka is set-up German impressionist shots to match the script’s built-in references–there’s a doctor named Murnau, a town called Orloc (from Murnau’s Nosferatu) and I think I saw a Metropolis poster. Soderbergh is a filmmaker concerned with the human condition and it’s entirely absent from Kafka. Kafka is a gimmick within a gimmick… There’s a certain cuteness–wink-wink–of Kafka in a Kafkaesque adventure, but the adventure is so incredibly lame–and derivative–watching the film is a chore. I suppose it did lead to Dark City–writer Lem Dobbs took whole ideas from Kafka and put them in that one–but it’s a lot like The Element of Crime.

Kafka did remind me–in its aloof and blatant humanity–a lot of Soderbergh’s Traffic. There’s a visible disconnect in some of Soderbergh’s films, when it’s obvious the material isn’t engaging him, so he just busies himself with the camera. Kafka has a lot of such busying. It does have some nice performances–Jeroen Krabbé is excellent, Joel Grey is mildly amusing, it’s one of Armin Mueller-Stahl’s good performances. Jeremy Irons is fine too (he doesn’t have to do an accent). Still, I knew there was major trouble from the beginning… Theresa Russell is the female lead and she’s terrible from her first scene.

I wonder if Kafka would have gotten a better critical response if it had come out before Barton Fink instead of after it. Lem Dobbs’s script–with its goofy characters and particular humor–is an obvious Coen mimic. It’s just a useless film… and, while I realize it’s not supposed to be a historically accurate portrayal of Kafka’s life, apparently, in the film’s world, the First World War never happened. That historical omission is much more interesting than anything else going on and it really shouldn’t be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Harry Benn and Stuart Cornfeld; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jeremy Irons (Kafka), Theresa Russell (Gabriela), Joel Grey (Burgel), Ian Holm (Doctor Murnau), Jeroen Krabbé (Bizzlebek), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Grubach), Alec Guinness (The Chief Clerk), Brian Glover (Castle Henchman), Keith Allen (Assistant Ludwig), Simon McBurney (Assistant Oscar) and Robert Flemyng (The Keeper of the Files).


The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)

Now here’s an interesting Stop Button pick. (It was the fiancée’s choice, actually). Most of what I know about Wallace’s 1998 adaptation. It knocked Titanic out of the top spot in the weekend box office… That’s it. And the preview was bad, playing up DiCaprio as… a bad guy?

The bad king and the good twin present a difficulty to turning the novel into a film (I have no idea what Dumas did, but I’ve only read The Three Musketeers and I was fifteen). The ideal, of course, would to do something similar to what Boyle did in World’s End. Wallace doesn’t do that, however. This film is also interesting because it’s from the writer of Braveheart, before he became the writer of Pearl Harbor. Oddly, for all the (undeserved) shit Pearl gets, no one ever points the finger at Wallace.

Watching Man in the Iron Mask, it’s obvious MGM didn’t do anything to it in light of DiCaprio’s Titanic success. He’s barely in the damn thing and he ranges from inoffensively bad to decent, or maybe I just got used to him as the film moved along. I cared about the character (the good twin, of course), which means he accomplished something.

But, really, besides the first and third acts, it’s all the Musketeers’ show. Played by Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu, one almost thinks Wallace intended it that way (given that DiCaprio’s most commercial venture to this point was probably The Quick and the Dead). All three are excellent and Gabriel Byrne has a few nice moments as D’Artagnan (but he’s not one of the original Musketeers, which I do remember from Dumas’ novel, which was the perception of the three through his eyes).

The Man in the Iron Mask offers no depth in the end. There are some nice moments about growing old, I suppose, but no more than something like Space Cowboys. Instead of a message, instead of any solidity, Wallace offers us the Three (Four) Musketeers kicking ass. Wallace got a really naive composer for the film, so the music sounds like the Salkind productions from the 1970s… hmm, maybe that was the point.

It’s fun to watch. Irons and Malkovich hover on hamming, but never take it up fully, and it was nice to see them resisting it in this one. Mostly, however, the film reassured me that the Salkind films might be all right, as I was planning on watching them soon.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Wallace; screenplay by Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by William Hoy; music by Nick Glennie-Smith; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Wallace and Russell Smith; released by United Artists.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (King Louis XIV/ Philippe), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan), Anne Parillaud (Queen Anne), Judith Godrèche (Christine) and Peter Sarsgaard (Raoul).


Scroll to Top