A Droid Premiere – Ironclad (2011)
I haven’t had the written a Premiere review for a while, so here’s a quick reminder of the category. Essentially it’s dedicated to the small number of films that I bother to see before anyone else. It’s intended to spread the word, be it positive or negative, about a film that might be of interest to your good self. This is such an occasion.
Another year, another sword and stabbery epic gets the pointy end of the distributors spear. We’ve had many a disenchanted discussion about the repeated shafting of films like Outlander, Solomon Kane and Centurion. After blink and you miss one week runs at the cinema caused me to miss out on the first two out of those films, I’ve made it a point to get out and support these underrated gems. So this week I saw that another such film had snuck it’s way onto a couple of screens. Like a good, faithful servant of the genre, I sought out a cinema that was playing it. Much to my dismay, I discovered that ‘Ironclad’ is the shining example of why these films get shafted.
Months after pledging his support to the Magna Carta in the year 1215, King John (Paul Giamatti) reneges on his commitment and assembles an army of Danish mercenary’s to seize back control of England. A small rebellion lead by a Templar Knight (James Purefoy) and Baron Albany (Brian Cox) take control of the strategically placed Rochester Castle, forcing King John into a months long war of attrition as the rebels desperately await the arrival of the French, and with them the new King of England.
It pains me greatly to say, but ‘Ironclad’ is a terrible film. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of co-writer and director Jonathan English. The bastard child of Paul Greengrass and a hyperactive spastic, English completely and utterly ruins the film with handheld, queasy cam, low angle, over-edited, nauseatingly unwatchable camerwork. From the very first skirmish I honestly considered getting up and leaving. It’s that bad. Funnily enough, only half an hour into the film the bloke behind me did just that. Good on him. Only adding to the problem is the amount of screen time dedicated to incomprehensible carnage. Clocking in at a bloated two hours, I’d have to say that at least half the film is a confusing barrage of shapes and blurs masquerading as battle, with the camera far to close too the action and endlessly whipping around in an uncontrolled frenzy.
That’s one half of the film. The other half is dedicated to half-baked clichés about faith, religion and the honour of war. I paraphrase, because by that time I was barely even listening, but when Purefoy delivers the line “There is no honour in killing a man, but there is honour in fighting for others” I didn’t know whether to laugh or hurl some useless inanimate object at the screen. Alas, I was not sitting next to Jonathan English so I chose to laugh.
The most frustrating thing about ‘Ironclad’, apart from the fact that the genre has seen a resurgence in the last couple of years with the release of the excellent film listed above, is that quite an excellent cast has been completely wasted. Just look at this list of actors and tell me you don’t expect something special. James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, Kate Mara, Charles Dance, and Vladimir Kulich. Instead of these actors filling the screen with personality, they spend most of their time either brooding in torment over their faith, barking terrible dialogue at each other or being required to provide endless horrified reaction shots while looking upon the bloody gore of the battle. Giamatti, nearly always a wonderful, offbeat screen presence is hopelessly miscast as King John. Out of sheer professionalism he tries to make it work, but even his superior talents come up short.
As you may have guessed, Ironclad is a massive disappointment. It honestly is the worst directed film I’ve seen in a long, long time. It completely wastes an excellent cast and fails to create a single interesting character. The fact that it was made for a whopping $25 million (to put it into perspective, the infinitely superior Centurion was made for only $12 million) just pours salt into the wound. I’ll cut this review short. I could rant further, but I want to forget I ever saw this film. So for all of the above and more, I give Ironclad the Angry A*P*E*. I feel your pain, my friend. Please take my word as gospel on this matter, and avoid Ironclad like talent has avoided Jonathan English.
Take it easy,