Monday, July 11, 2011

'Ironclad' has fun storming the castle

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM

GET THE POINT? (I LOVE THAT ONE.) Jason Flemyng (center) in Ironclad
  • ARC Entertainment
  • GET THE POINT? (I LOVE THAT ONE.) Jason Flemyng (center) in 'Ironclad'
I doubt many moviegoers were clamoring for a sequel to Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood film from last year. The pity of it is that the violent period piece Ironclad takes up where Robin Hood left off and genuinely delivers bloody historical heroism that audiences would dig. Directed by Jonathan English, the film suffers from some conspicuous flaws — “ironclad” doesn’t exactly describe it’s storytelling — but still deserves more attention than it’s likely to get.

Ridley Scott wound up his account of medieval English derring-do with King John signing the Magna Carta limiting royal powers and ensuring new political liberties. Ironclad begins in the aftermath as King John (Paul Giamatti) hired an army of Viking-like mercenaries to terrorize the rebellious landowners and undo the Magna Carta’s powers. The baron of Albany (Brian Cox) scrambles to thwart the king’s plan to sizing Rochester Castle, a modest but strategic fortress. “If the King takes Rochester, he’ll control all of Southern England,” a character exclaims, although detailed explanations tend to be sketchy.

Albany gathers a rag-tag resistance force, including the taciturn Marshall (broodingly charismatic James Purefoy), a Knight Templar with a dark secret and a vow of celibacy. Ironclad skimps on developing the supporting players (including Jason Flemyng and “The Office’s” Mackenzie Crook as an archer), but provides an engrossing account of siege warfare. Rochester’s handful of defenders beat back invaders, duck fireballs launched from trebuchets, sabotage an enemy siege tower and try to withstand starvation as the days turn to months. Pig fat even proves to be a deadly (and historically accurate) means of attack.

Of the actors, Kate Mara comes across as the most jarringly contemporary as a lonely noblewoman who tempts Marshall to break his vows. Giamatti’s doleful eyes and shaggy beard lend him the aspect of a mangy Teddy Ruxpin doll, but he conveys the insecurities that underpin the king’s vicious behavior.

Ironclad’s gore effects crew turn out to be the stars of the film. The fight choreography doesn’t match the Japanese samurai slash-em-up 13 Assassins, but English’s camera doesn’t flinch from the butchery of medieval combat, including dismemberments, gaping wounds and one unfortunate fellow nearly bisected from shoulder to stomach by Marshall’s sword.

If Ironclad were just a little better, it’d be a really good movie. The photography conveys the sense of sharing the battlements with the macho actors, so Ironclad carries more dramatic weight than such other sword-slicing period pieces as Centurion and The Eagle. The undernourished screenplay and overlong running time keep the film from greatness, but its suspense and medieval action scenes deserve a salute.

Ironclad. 3 stars. Directed by Jonathan English. Stars James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti. Rated R. Now playing at AMC North Dekalb 16.

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