For the next review for this month’s Genre Grandeur – War, here is another review by Niall of Raging Fluff. This time he reviewed Ironclad (2011)
It’s still isn’t too late to participate in this month Genre Grandeur, all you have to do is send me an email to email@example.com by the 27th of August and I’ll post it.
Take it away Niall!
Summary: In 13th century England a small group of rebels led by a Templar knight defend Rochester Castle against an army led by villainous King John.
“Only the weak believe that what they do in battle is who they are as men.” Thomas Marshall
Ironclad is a good and properly gritty war movie. It is gruesome, violent and gory. Brutal men get medieval on each other with little provocation. Limbs are hacked off. Men are split in two. Faces are caved in. Blood and viscera are splattered all over the place, and often on the lens. It’s pissing rain most of the time. It’s all very grim and sincere, but also quite simplistic and cheesy, and is marred by a central performance from James Purefoy that aims for Russell Crowe-like glum, tortured heroics, but comes off as rather stiff.
It’s not entirely Purefoy’s fault. The script requires him to be restrained because his character, Thomas Marshall, a Templar Knight returned from the Holy Land, is supposed to be caught between his sacred vows to God and his desire for justice. So he does a lot of praying and looking troubled when he’s not kicking the shite out of people. He spends much of the time awkwardly resisting the advances of a noblewoman (Kate Mara), who at one point asks him to show her how to hold of his long sword. Giggity!
The rest of the cast, though, led by Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi, and Charles Dance (for once as a good guy) is allowed to cut loose. They all have a wonderful time roaring at each other and chewing the scenery.
The story is simple: it’s Braveheart meets The Magnificent Seven. To end the civil war, cruel King John is forced by the nobility to sign the Magna Carta, which keeps him on the throne but limits his power and guarantees the rights of free men. “What is not remembered is what king John did next.” He reneges on the deal. Rochester Castle is strategically vital: he can control most of England from it, so he heads there to seize it. A ragtag group of rebels hold up there to defend it. The group is a standard mix of movie types: Young Idealist; Thuggish Oaf; Whoremonger; Fat Comic; Loner, etc.
The story hits all the expected beats and there are few surprises, save for the sheer amount of gore, which will be shocking for those who don’t watch Game of Thrones. My favourite bit is when someone picks up a severed arm and uses it to beat a man’s head in. My second favourite bit is when a character has his hands and feet chopped off before being catapulted against a wall. Some of the battle scenes are shot in chaotic shaky-cam style, which can get a bit tiring after awhile.
As history it’s probably a bit dodgy. It has historically accurate attention to detail when it comes to appalling ways to kill people, but typical movie logic on everything else. The castle is besieged for months and they run out of food, yet nobody looks that thin, and their smiles are even and gleaming. It’s also oddly edited; I suspect several scenes were cut to move the story along. Still, Ironclad is an enjoyable piece of quasi-historical adventure, and ideal to watch with some mates and a few beers.
Thanks again to Niall for this review!