Ben Mortimer reviews Ironclad for Bleeding Cool:
About ten minutes into Ironclad, a deranged King John, played with relish by Paul Giamatti, calls the captain of his band of Danish mercenaries over, and whispers in his ear. A few seconds later, all hell breaks loose, as clergymen are mutilated, noblemen are executed, and James Purefoy's, Knight Templar, dismembers anyone who gets in his way. This scene, gloriously daft, and exceptionally bloodthirsty sets the tone for what's to come.
Playing out like a semi-accurate, live-action rendition of a Horrible Histories book, the film takes absolute joy in showing just how violent medieval warfare could be. Consequently we are treated to frequent dismemberment, frantic flailing with maces, and one moment where a man is cleaved in half from collar to crotch, spraying blood everywhere in the process.
This then is a film aimed at the twelve year old boy who used to hang his little sister's dolls from his bedroom window, and took great pleasure in dissecting bulls' eyes in science class. That said, it was apparent from the screening I attended, that a great number of people, many women included, are in touch with their inner schoolboy, as just about every gory incident resulted in roars of approving laughter.
While the decision to make the violence extreme was clearly right, shooting every single action sequence in 'shakey-cam' was not. Already chaotic scenes became unintelligible, and at times it was impossible to keep track of which characters had been killed, which maimed, and which were still up and fighting. The real shame is that the few moments when the camera was relatively steady were absolutely fantastic.
The dialogue is the film's other major flaw. It seems that the writers spent several months collecting a list of the most overused, clichéd lines from their favourite films, threw them into a hat, and pulled them out at random. Not only is the dialogue hackneyed, but even the less bad bits frequently seem like exposition, and simply feel wrong.
The worst moment for this is a conversation between the Constable of Rochester Castle, played by Derek Jacobi and Baron D'Albany, played by Brian Cox. When they briefly slip into Latin, the Poor Man's Ray Winstone, Jamie Forman, pipes up with "That's Roman, 'innit?". This line, clearly intended to remind the audience that it was Romans who spoke Latin, is both superfluous, and utterly jarring.
The fact that the cast not only salvage the film from this dialogue, but manage to turn it into something incredibly entertaining is testament to the talent of just about everyone involved. The sheer energy in almost all of the performances is incredible, and the joy that the cast clearly took in filming their roles translates perfectly. This is particularly true in the case of Giamatti, who snarls and shouts and rages throughout, tempering his performance with brief moments of sinister, psychotic calm, and Cox, who acts as a calm, sardonic counterpoint to Giamatti's madness.
While the film has many, gaping flaws, and is about twenty minutes too long, Ironclad is great fun. Although not for the squeamish, it's incredibly easy to get caught up in, and as pure entertainment is excellent. Let's hope we see more British movies like this in the near future.
Editor's note: Or like this without the over-run and many, gaping flaws. That'd be good.