Leonardo DiCaprio cements his position as one of young Hollywood’s top draws as the title character in "The Man in the Iron Mask". Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas père and set in the 17th century, the film tells the story of a king whose tyrannical disposition prompts those in his service to replace him with a almost-unknown twin brother. This sort of swashbuckling costume drama has been missing from theaters for too long. It returns now with gusto.
With a new generation of musketeers defending the king of France (Leonardo DiCaprio), the glory days of Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), Porthos (Gérard Depardieu), and D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) are but a revered memory. Aramis has become a priest and is an advisor to the king while Athos is content to be the proud father of a son (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants to follow in his footsteps. Porthos, although prone to bouts of life-questioning depression, is still as randy as ever, while D'Artagnan is now captain of the musketeers. These old friends don’t get together as much as they did in the past, but each knows he can depend on the others when a mission of importance comes his way.
One such mission is self-imposed when the king’s cavalier disregard for his people results in rioting in Paris. Porthos joins Aramis unquestioningly in his plan to replace the king, but Athos buys into it because the king has recently wronged him. D'Artagnan, who believes his duty to the king is absolute, is alone in refusing to participate. Nevertheless, the plan is executed without his direct knowledge. This leads to a crisis of conscience when he finds himself pitted against the three musketeers of renown by the order of the king.
With the inestimable acting talents of its first- rate cast and a script that allows for action, emotion, and humor in proper proportion, "The Man in the Iron Mask" is a far cry from the smarmy "Three Musketeers" movie released a few years ago by Disney. Irons, Byrne and Malkovich are at the top of their form in this engrossing period piece, but Depardieu deserves special mention for his particularly vivacious performance. Ironically, it is heartthrob DiCaprio who fares the worst among the leads, but not by any fault of his own. As the evil king and his saintly brother, he has been bound by the largely two-dimensional nature of both characters. To his credit, DiCaprio is able to infuse each with a degree of potency not possible by many of his peers.
Despite its title, this film is really about the friendship of the four musketeers and their devotion to the ideal of justice. If you ignore the unfitting voice-over at the conclusion, what remains is a rousing adventure that embraces best aspects of humanity. If you have been waiting for the next great reason to part with your money at the box office, "The Man in the Iron Mask" will end your wait with a flourish.