PLOT: Soon after signing the Magna Carta; guaranteeing the rights of men, King John of England (Paul Giamatti) goes back on his word, and with an army of Danish warriors, plots to reconquer Britain- starting with the strategically placed Rochester Castle. The only ones standing in his way are a rogue member of the Knights Templar; Marshall (James Purefoy), and a lone Baron's (Brian Cox) band of mercenaries.
REVIEW: Chalk IRONCLAD up as a flick that totally caught me off guard. Despite having already played internationally, and already available on VOD, IRONCLAD made it's Canadian debut at the Fantasia Film festival. Being a fan of medieval fare (BLACK DEATH being a recent favorite), I was hellbent on checking this out- and I'm glad I got the chance to see it projected in 35MM in the massive Hall Theater, as this is where a film like IRONCLAD really belongs.
Reportedly, IRONCLAD carries a modest $25 million budget, but to look at the film you'd never know it. This is as lavish a medieval spectacle as I've ever seen, and I enjoyed every minute of it. From start to finish, it's a total blast, and packed with dozens of bloody battles the likes of which I haven't seen depicted so gruesomely since John Boorman's EXCALIBUR. The film begins with a priest getting his tongue cut out (show in excruciating detail), and over the following two hours, we get all manner of decapitations, disembowelings, and macings.
As far as pure action goes, IRONCLAD is the most satisfying historical action film I've seen since the director's cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Jonathan English- who I've never heard of before seeing this, does a terrific job filming the action, with you being thrust right into the middle of the bloody battles, which at once feel both epic, and confined enough to keep them from getting impersonal.
In the lead, James Purefoy once again shows that he's got some serious potential as an action star (I also liked him in SOLOMON KANE), and his badass Templar Knight makes a solid heroic lead. He also gets a romantic subplot with Kate Mara, but- truth be told, this is the one area the film goes a little awry, as the romantic tension between the two is as clichéed as you can get. They spend so much time making eyes at each other that, at one point, Fantasia audience members (always a rowdy crowd), starting yelling "f**k her" in french at the screen. Still, Mara is good, and even pulls off a convincing English accent.
Good as Purefoy is, this is definitely Paul Giamatti's film with him playing a memorably weaselly King John- complete with a red page-boy haircut. Never before has Giamatti had the chance to chew so much scenery, nor looked like he was having such a grand time doing it. Giamatti's big tete-a-tete with Brian Cox is so awesome that the audience started cheering and applauding once it was over.
Of course, Brian Cox, for his part, is wonderful as always, and without a doubt, he gets the best dialogue, and uses some pretty creative profanity (favorites including: "he's a piss-blooded king leading a bitch's army". or "he's no more a king than the boil on my arse!"). Love me some Cox. The rest of the heroes are also pretty damn memorable, including Jason Flemyng as a whore and booze loving warrior, and Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from the UK OFFICE) as the group archer.
It's actually a shame that IRONCLAD is so readily available on VOD, as it's really something that should be seen in theaters with a rowdy appreciative audience. At Fantasia, I got to see IRONCLAD in the optimal setting, but even if I was watching at home, I probably would have loved it just the same. It's a totally kick-ass medieval romp, and one of the better action films I've seen lately.