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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look42.86%
Pretty Bad: 7.14%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Words clank as swords clash."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: While "Ironclad" has a truly remarkable amount of crunching, blood-spurting medievel violence, its most memorable moment comes from Paul Giamatti yelling at Brian Cox. If there were a direct-to-video Oscars, he would be a shoo-in for a "Best Villainous Overacting" nomination, at the very least. Sadly, though, filmmaker Jonathan English spends so much time cramming more and more action in that he seldom has a chance to get the best parts of his cast into the same room and let them go at it with something other than swords.

Of course, this is a movie about a siege, and that's not the way sieges work. You've got the good guys on one side of the wall, the bad guys on the other, and except for a person or two having second thoughts on which side is which, it's all about holding fast until the next attack. The siege in question is that of Rochester Castle in 1215 - having signed the Magna Charta, King John (Giamatti) decides he wants to take it back with a vengeance, and sets about eliminating all of the other signatories. The Duke of Albany (Cox) means to stop him, but has only one Templar Knight (James Purefoy), his squire (Aneurin Barnard), and a ragtag band of former allies to stand against John and his army of Danish mercenaries. They hole up in Rochester Castle - to its master's very mixed emotions - with plans to stall him until reinforcements can arrive from France.

Ironclad has three big battle sequences as King John's men attempt to storm the castle, and while English does sometimes have the cinematographer shake the camera a bit more than necessary, the action scenes are not bad at all: The camera isn't constantly in so tight that you can't see what's going on - in fact, there are several pretty good scenes of swordfighting - and most of the actors and doubles look like they know what they're doing. The blood does flow, with nothing romanticized and a fair amount of warfare shown as particularly vicious. There are siege engines, towers, and a thing with pigs I'd never heard of which is insanely effective.

In between these battles, though, things tend to get kind of dull. The grimy allies don't particularly differentiate themselves, squire Guy's idealistic talk rings somewhat hollow, and the subplot about the bored young wife of the Duke of Rochester throwing herself at the Templar Knight just tends to seem absurd on every possible level (why is it him she's suddenly obsessed with, are we supposed to be rooting for him to betray his principles, and is Kate Mara in a tight leather corset really going to have so few options even if husband Derek Jacobi has never touched her?). What's going on between John and Tiberius, the head of his mercenaries, is never that interesting, and the differences of opinion between the Dukes of Rochester and Albany don't do much better.

And there's the crying shame. There are some darn good actors in this movie, but English seems to have no idea how to use them properly. How the heck do you put Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi in this situation and not give them a chance to create gold? Why is Charles Dance so underused when his early scenes as the archbishop are some of the film's more charismatic? There are no really bad performances in the picture (well, maybe Kate Mara, but I'm not sure how much she can do with her ridiculous character), but few of the bold - or just large - ones. Brian Cox is consistently giving the material his all, and James Purefoy is decently tortured. Even Paul Giamatti barely bothers with anything approximating an English accent, although he does at least get to cut loose in one late scene, and it is glorious, the sort of fierce, carnivorous acting to match the battle scenes' mayhem.

Sadly, there are few other moments that can compare to that, and it's a shame. This movie needs characters with a fury to match its battle scenes, and only manages that briefly.

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originally posted: 07/22/11 01:45:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Actionfest 2011 For more in the Actionfest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

11/10/11 Aaron Smith A wonderfully depicted siege tale. One of my new favorites. 5 stars
8/23/11 Taliesin Quite good actors, some stupid dialogues and unnecessary camera moves 2 stars
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  DVD: 26-Jul-2011


  DVD: 26-Jul-2011

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