It’s odd that a low-budget independent movie is filled with recognizable faces and action scenes. And yet, here it is. Nobody has really heard of Ironclad. I think it’s going wider late in July, but first it probably has to do well in its limited run.
Ironclad is basically the coolest piece of Magna Carta propaganda ever. You all remember the Magna Carta–a very early precursor to our own democracy, that we all had to learn about in high school? No? Well, you will quickly be reminded in the prologue. Ironclad is the story of what King John does after being forced to sign the Magna Carta, and the handful of brave souls who try to stop him.
Most of this movie is based on actual history, and I found that aspect fascinating. King John (played by Paul Giamatti) apparently didn’t like signing a document giving up some royal powers, so he hired mercenaries from Scandanavia to help him kill English dissenters. Then there’s the official church’s position, and France’s dilemma of who to help. I liked all of this. Unfortunately, it’s too sparse. It may seem odd to want more history in an action movie, but otherwise it’s really well done.
The band of rebels are led by Brian Cox as one of England’s barons and James Purefoy as a Templar Knight, who seems to be carving a niche of sword-wielding characters with this, Rome, Camelot, and Solomon Kane in the last few years. There are other characters with them, all unique enough to be easily distinguished from each other, but none so deep that you really get to know them. The acting is pretty good all around. Paul Giamatti has one particular monologue that was fantastic. He was so convinced of his God-given rule that he almost had ME convinced that yeah, he should stay king.
There’s a lot of action in the movie too, as the mercenaries go up against the rebels. There’s a castle under siege that has some pretty inventive action. Some of it looks like what we saw in Lord of the Rings, but at 1/100th the scale (and more realistic). The broadsword that James Purefoy wields is amazing. Nearly as tall as a man, this is the type of weapon that we don’t see on screen very often. It’s historically accurate and awesome.
So why the mediocre score? There are a few reasons, and I’ll try to avoid spoilers. First, the budget hurts it a little bit. During the siege, the actors look the same at the beginning and end. No longer beards, no gaunt faces. And there are several times where the camera cuts away from violence because it’s expensive to put on screen. There is still a LOT of gruesome death, but it’s like they had to pick the moments to spend money on, instead of being consistent.
Second, the relationship between the lead female (Kate Mara) and James Purefoy. Not only did it seem unnecessary, the circumstances surrounding it were such that the audience (at least my friend and I) were constantly rooting for it NOT to happen. It’s not just obligatory–it’s downright unsatisfying because of details of the character and plot I won’t give away here. But it’s bad when the romance causes harm to the audience’s opinion of the hero.
Last, and I mentioned this before, but I wanted more history. What exists is so good, but the movie ends without a clear answer to what happens to the King of England. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a follow-up paragraph on screen, as is common with these kinds of movies. I had other nitpicks too (including the title), but they’re not worth going into.
I’m giving it a 6, which means I liked it, but I’ve always been a sucker for medieval action movies. If you don’t have a particular affinity for them, it might be more of a 5 for you.