The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) 4K UHD Review: Struggles to Find its Footing

The phenomenal success of Randall Wallace’s screenplay for 1995’s Braveheart gave him carte blanche on his next film for which he chose to write and direct The Man in the Iron Mask. The film was Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film since Titanic and expectations were high. Braveheart and Wallace, Titanic and DiCaprio, and throw in four top tier actors for flavor – it was a dream scenario. You’d have to work to screw it up.

In The Man in the Iron Mask, Leonardo DiCaprio plays twins King Louis XIV and Philipe Bourbon. In the hopes of stopping any sibling rivalry surrounding the kingship, when the twins were born, King Louis XIII decided to separate the two and send Phillipe to live out his life in the country. He did this instead of any of a myriad more sensible solutions the viewer will come up with all on their own in the first ten minutes.

Early in the film, King Louis discovers Philipe and sends him to the Bastille where he is imprisoned and, to hide his identity, forced to wear an iron mask. That’s correct, they took Leonardo DiCaprio’s face and hid it in an iron mask for a third of the film.

Mixed up amongst all this political intrigue are the King’s guard, the Musketeers. Four of the Musketeers, though aging, are still embroiled in the secret of the king and the king’s brother. Gabriel Byrne plays D’Artagnan, now the leader of the Musketeers after decades of devoted service to the king. Jeremy Irons is Aramis, now a priest, and leader of the Jesuits who want to destroy the king. Gerard Depardieu is the drunken ladies man, and John Malkovich has retired to the country to raise his son.

All the actors do their best considering the production team made a couple terrible decisions that affect one’s ability to stay engrossed in the story: The movie takes place in France, all the actors play French people, but only Depardieu has a French accent. Consider how easy it is to notice this when you throw in three highly distinctive voices like Byrne (Irish), Malkovich (American), and Irons (British). 

And second, the set design in the film is a mishmash of astonishingly good and astonishingly bad. Scenes set in the countryside and at the palace (the real world Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte) are lush, beautiful, and help to draw the viewer into the action. The grounds of the palace are especially awe-inspiring and remind us of the clear divide between the aristocracy and the rabble outside the gates. But scenes set in the palace dungeons and the prison look like high school productions. You will swear you can smell the paper-mâché and Styrofoam.

The Man in the Iron Mask has its heart in the right place. There is swashbuckling and bodice-ripping, daring escapes, losses, and joyous successes. Leonardo DiCaprio is charming, if not perfect for the role, but combined with four other top-notch actors, all putting in their best performances despite a fairly weak script, leads to a watchable popcorn feature.

Bonus Features (on 4K UHD Disc):

  • New 4K Transfer from the Original Camera Negative
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Randall Wallace
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Dolby Vision (HDR-10) Compatible

Bonus Features (on Blu-ray Disc):

  • New 4K Transfer from the Original Camera Negative
  • Interview with Producer Paul Hitchcock
  • Interview with Production Designer Anthony Pratt
  • “Myth and the Musketeers” Featurette – Background on Dumas and the Three Musketeers.
  • “Director’s Take” Featurette – Writer/director Randall Wallace gives his take on the direction of the script and the making of the film.
  • “Alternate Mask Prototypes” Featurette – A discussion of the design of the iron mask.
  • Original Behind-the-Scenes Featurette – Mostly the trailer interlaced with short speeches by the main actors.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Randall Wallace
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

On its opening weekend The Man in the Iron Mask placed second at the box office. First place? Titanic.

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Greg Hammond

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