Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:10 - Released 3/13/98

Still riding high on his popularity from Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio is sure to skyrocket to the top of every schoolgirl's list with Randall Wallace's remake of The Man In The Iron Mask, which stars the young hearthrob in dual roles: that of French king Louis XIV and his unknown twin brother Philippe, who was locked in a dungeon for the simple crime of being the king's twin. The production quality of this version of Alexander Dumas's classic story is rich and beautiful in every detail, and for the most part, the acting matches the film's general quality. With a supporting cast made up of people like John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons, it would be hard to miss. Yet in some areas it comes perilously close to doing just that.

The trouble comes with DiCaprio's acting. These "evil twin" stories are always challenging for the person playing the twins, crafting two different characters for the price of one, especially when one twin has to pretend to be the other. Not only does DiCaprio have to give us 1) King Louis and 2) Philippe, but he also must pull off 3) Philippe's characterization of King Louis. Keeping in mind that Philippe is by no means a professional actor, DiCaprio must show us the flaws in his impersonation of his brother, but they must be so subtle that other characters in the movie believe he is the king. Very tricky.

DiCaprio's characterizations, especially of the king, leave a little to be desired. It is obvious that he was told by director Wallace to play Louis as a spoiled brat, but he overdoes it. A teenage king like Louis might be petty and conceited, but he would have been trained to have some sort of regal bearing; he would not look like a 20th century American teenager. DiCaprio reads his lines as if there is absolutely nothing behind them; he fails to show thought before speaking. In life, conversation is not written and memorized, it is constantly ebbing and flowing, evolving, in a state of flux. DiCaprio is too rushed, too stilted at the beginning. But as the story swells toward the climax, he allows both his characters to live, and to be different, and to be the same.

The characterizations of the now-retired Musketeers are all impeccable, as may be expected by the cast. The vengeful Athos (Malkovich), spiritual Aramis (Irons), lustful and fun-loving Porthos (Depardieu), and D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), the one who remains loyal to the king, all give a satisfyingly well-rounded feel to the story. We see it from all sides, and we see the love and mutual respect between these old friends, who sometimes quarrel so angrily that we expect them to draw swords against each other, and indeed they do. It's all part of their comfortable yet intensely competetive relationship. What a fine foursome.

No less praise should go to the two principal women. Anne Parillaud, who plays Queen Anne, mother of the twins, is at once regal yet powerless, sensual yet wracked with grief. Judith Godrèche, playing the lover of Athos's son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), must deal with the affections of the king who sent her fiancé away to his death on the battlefield.

The Man In The Iron Mask is a luxurious piece of eye candy all the way through; the costumes (by James Acheson), cinematography (by Peter Suschitzky), music (by Nick Glennie-Smith), and production design (by Anthony Pratt) all match Wallace's top-quality screenplay adaptation of Dumas's story. At this time of year, it's tempting to say that there will be several nominations headed in The Man's direction, but because of the timing of its release date, chances are this movie will be a distant memory by Oscar-time next year. ****½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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