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STUDIO: Arc Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 121 Minutes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan English
Magna Carta like you’ve never seen it before.
Written by Jonathan English, Erick Kastel and Stephen McDool. Directed by Jonathan English. Acted by James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Jason Flemyng, Aneurin Barnard, Mackenzie Crook, Jamie Foreman, Vladimir Kulich and Charles Dance.
In the 13th Century, a group of wealthy Barons in England (in a super team with the Knights Templar) rebelled against King John (Giamatti) and entered into a war that lasted for years. The battle ended with King John signing the Magna Carta, a document that gave the English equal rights and reduced the power of the monarchy. King John felt that his hand was forced to sign the Magna Carta, so he teams up with some Danish warriors and starts bringing blood and terror to the people. In order to stop John on his pilgrimage of murder, the Baron William de Albany (Cox) and the Templar Knight Thomas Marshall (Purefoy) will get their band of badasses back together in order to hold Rochester Castle, the key to controlling Southern England. It’s like a 13th Century Alamo except instead of Mexicans there’s Paul Giamatti.The Lowdown
I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I’m a fan of just about every actor in the piece and I think Kate Mara is hot like fire. I like blood and gore which this film is swimming in and I love me a good siege movie. All these things combined should have made for an incredibly fun two hours in front of the television, but they don’t combine well, instead they congeal and flop half formed onto the ground. When I sat down to write this I was planning on being much less harsh than this because I thought “Oh, well. It was entertaining and didn’t shit the bed horribly,” but I’m tired of making excuses for movies like this. Movies that have all the right ingredients to make Fettuccine Alfredo but have a chef that only knows how to make Top Ramen. 90% of the things that don’t work in this movie don’t work because of the direction and the script and there’s no excuses for that.
When you have a cast that includes some of the best actors working right now, there’s also no excuse not to give them something to do. Derek Jacobi (who plays Cornhill, the Lord that lives in Rochester Castle with his wife, Kissed by Fire Kate Mara) pops up three or four times to harumph and act effete and bitchy that his castle is being used for the siege. His character has a purpose and Jacobi plays the motivations well, but there is nothing else for him to do other than wring his hands. The man is also married to Molten Kate Mara, so maybe a little more background on their union would have been nice there. I hate reviewing movies for what they should have been instead of for what they are, but Ironclad just feels like a barrel of missed opportunities waiting to be revealed to the world.
Paul Giamatti seems miscast for the first hour of the film, but once the script allows him to get his requisite scenery chewing in, he seems much more at home. He can scream like someone who gets paid to scream for a living. James Purefoy is another actor whose performance depends on the material he’s given. I couldn’t stand his swarthy, greasy smirkitude in the first Resident Evil movie, but that same combination made his Marc Antony on Rome one of the decades greatest television characters. In Ironclad he’s stripped of his knowing wink and only given a tortured decision to play about whether to uphold his vows of chastity to the Knights Templar or get all up in Flaming Kate Mara for a minute. He’s stoic and then conflicted and then back to stoic for the film’s entire running time and I don’t think stoic is where Purefoy’s talents are able to shine (although I haven’t seen Solomon Kane yet, for what that’s worth).
It’s great to see Mackenzie Crook (the British Office’s Gareth) and Jason Flemyng (League of Extraordinary Gentleman’s Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde) get to play badasses. Crook is a wicked awesome archer and Flemyng is a womanizing psychopath (with a code) and they both truly seem like they’re having the best time playing these roles. It’s against type casting like this that almost makes the film work in spite of itself but the script just isn’t strong enough to make you forget about its myriad of problems. I wanted to care about whether they lived or died, but the roles are such broadly written archetypes that I knew their fates within moments of their introductions.
The two actors I was looking forward to the most in the film are Brian Cox and Charles Dance. I’ve never seen either of them be anything less than fully committed to what they’re doing onscreen and I knew their involvement would bring a bit of pedigree to the movie. In Charles Dance’s case, that’s true. He has two scenes in the film and makes the cliche’ ridden dialogue sound like poetry when it falls from his mouth. I wanted so much more of him that it was a shame his role was basically an extended cameo. Brian Cox, on the other hand, seemed to be sleepwalking through this one a bit. I read that there was a ton of trouble getting the financing for this movie in place and they had to go through a few cast changes to make it work and I’m wondering if he was a late addition and didn’t have much time to find the heart and soul of William de Albany. I’m going to be a Cox apologist (heh) and say that the fault is someone else’s because I don’t believe old Cox-y would be anything less than stellar if given the proper tools to work with. I’m looking at you, Jonathan English.
There was only one aspect of the casting that I think was a mistake and that was Vladimir Kulich as King John’s warrior: the Danish warlord Tiberius. Kulich isn’t bad or anything and I loved him as The Beast on Angel, but here he just seems sleepy and a little boring. He looks the part perfectly, but he never seems scary or that intimidating. If someone equal to the talents of Giamatti were given the role, Tiberius could have been the standout character of the entire film. As it stands, he’s just kind of there until Purefoy reaches the end of the level (I mean movie) and has to fight the boss (I mean villain).
I spent so many words talking about the cast for two reasons: 1) because it’s more interesting than talking about the film and 2) to illustrate that no matter how good your cast is, it’s nothing if you aren’t a fantastic storyteller with a clear picture of the film you’re making. At points throughout Ironclad I felt like I was watching some lost film by Paul W.S. Anderson or Nevaldine\Taylor but with none of their strengths and all of their weaknesses (I know I’m being weird when I talk about Paul Anderson’s strengths, but I still love Event Horizon. Shoot me). The director of Ironclad, Jonathan English, doesn’t have an eye for sweep or grandeur and constantly has the film feeling like a low budget, direct to DVD gore fest instead of the epic adventure I think he was going for.
There’s no sense of geography to the battle scenes, no scope to the stakes everyone is fighting for, no rhythm to the editing or the lenses being used. It bounces between dolly shots and shaky-cam handheld so much that it feels like there was more than one cook in the kitchen. This comes in so far behind other siege movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and Rio Bravo that I shouldn’t have even brought those movies up. I could go on and on about the things that don’t work in Ironclad but you can only go so far until you’re just being an asshole. To be nice, I will say that the gore and blood effects are plentiful and wonderful, so if that’s all you need from your Medieval Battle Siege movie then you’ll be up whatever the opposite of shit creek is with multiple paddles. The film is harmless and sporadically entertaining but that’s just not good enough, goddammit. Not anymore.
There’s a trailer which I watched and a commentary track with the weak link of the entire enterprise, director Jonathan English, which I will never listen to unless it’s all about him talking about what went wrong. The transfer is gorgeous but the film is so poorly shot that it’s all moot, anyway.The Verdict
The movie Redbox was invented for. I’m sure this will entertain lots of casual film watchers but they shouldn’t have to pay more than a dollar for it just because they like shit.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars