Stars: Paul Giamatti, Jason Flemyng, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance
In 13th-century England, a small group of Knights Templar fight to defend Rochester Castle against the tyrannical King John.
Remember the first time you watched “Saving Private Ryan?” It was a massive departure from the previous war films and it probably gave you the closest realization to battles in World War 2. It was an unrelenting and accurate depiction of World War 2 and the men whom served. In a similar vain, “Ironclad”, gives us a brutal glimpse of war during the medieval times and reminds us of something we probably already knew. War sucks.
“Ironclad” takes place in the early 13th century when King John (Paul Giamatti), and an army of mercenaries, waged war with the south coast of England. He originally signed the Magna Carter, which would uphold the rights of men and diminish the king’s power. Realizing he’s a tyrannical maniac, King John changes his mind and attempts to overthrow the Magna Carter and take over England.
The last castle he must take is Rochester. He plans to ransack it with an army of thousands in one devastating blow. Unfortunately for him, a small band of rebel Templar knights have decided to make Rochester their last stand. Looking back, if there was any movie deserving the title ‘Last Stand” it’s “Ironclad.” These noble rebels include, but are not limited to, Marshal (James Purefoy), Albany (Brian Cox), Becket (Jason Flemyng), and Guy (Aneurin Barnard). All together the Rebels probably add up to 30 with about 18 of them being actual warriors. So, it’s a thousand plus versus less than twenty. All hope is not lost, for France is sending an armada to see that the Magna Carter is instated. So, King John is also fighting the clock.
Medieval battle tactics and strategy play a key element on both sides, but the ultimate x-factor is the will and determination of the rebels. To them, the rights of men are far more important than their own lives. Whatever side Brian Cox is on is the side I’d join. Not only is he physically imposing in this film, he can rally his men like a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.
This movie is not shy on violence. It takes many hacks of a blade to kill a man and if you try the hollywood standard of one-on-one combat during a war you’re going to get stabbed in the back numerous times. It’s not glorious, and its probably the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen. As far as the practical effects go, they’re disturbingly brutal. I could not recognize any CG and it was sort of refreshing to see swords and axes go into flesh. That last sentence might no say much for me as a person.
The acting in this film is superb. Brian Cox, Paul Gamatti, and James Purefoy give their all in this film. I can’t help but feel bad for James Purefoy. He’s an excellent leading man, and chooses good projects, but he never seems to get the credit he deserves. See “Solomon Kane” and you can see what he’s capable of in a blockbuster that never actually busted blocks.
There is a sweet side story between Marshal and the neglected queen Isabel (Kate Mara). She’s a headstrong character that is overwhelmingly attracted to Marshal but his loyalty to the Knight’s Templar forbids him from any form of carnal pleasure. And of course, that makes him more attractive. He’s a handsome super soldier with an inhuman moral compass and a genuine compassion for the people around him. I would most likely become gay if I was trapped in a castle with Marshal for months at a time.
All in all, “Ironclad” is a good film. It’s gorgeous in it’s photography and it has an impressive story to tell. Is it perfect? No, not at all. It clammers onto cliches and goofy dialog that may take you out of it. It almost gets a hold of great, but only grasps onto solid. It’s also a male centric movie which includes tough guys being tough, hyper violence, and dying for a cause. I’m not saying women won’t like it, but this film had a clear audience in mind. They weren’t making “Sin City” with the Missis in mind.
Also, the trailer for this movie makes it look like a fun gore-fest featuring heavy metal and fancy swordplay. The tag-line is even “Heavy Metal goes Medieval.” Even though I like all of those things and want to see that movie, that’s not “Ironclad.” Don’t get me wrong though, “Ironclad” is a gore-fest.
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