The movies have been telling and retelling Alexandre Dumas' 1844 swashbuckler "The Three Musketeers" on the screen for nearly a century, and clearly director-cinematographer Peter Hyams understood the need to take a fresh approach if he were to attempt it anew.
For his robust and handsome "The Musketeer," Hyams enlisted veteran Hong Kong stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong to stage a clutch of spectacular action sequences that are amusing in the imaginative intricacy of their bravura. Hyams in turn has shot the film in refreshingly unfamiliar authentic locales in Luxembourg and in southwestern France amid much darkness, appropriate to a time when the only sources of light were candles and torches. Hyams' striving for the look of the paintings of the Dutch masters, combined with derring-do at its most fanciful, gives this "Musketeer" a sophisticated tone, which in turn allows for playing Dumas pretty straight, although with high spirits and good humor. Gene Quintano's script abounds in well-turned phrases and has provided solid roles for Catherine Deneuve as the beautiful and courageous queen of France, Stephen Rea as the greedy, politically ambitious and utterly ruthless Cardinal Richelieu and Tim Roth as the cardinal's savage, increasingly crazed enforcer, Febre. These accomplished international stars lend effective support to newcomer Justin Chambers as the dashing D'Artagnan and exquisite Mena Suvari as the proud Parisian chambermaid who wins D'Artagnan's heart at first sight. (The Three Musketeers are on hand but are relatively minor characters this time out.)
In the 17th century, France was plagued by the reign of the weak-willed King Louis XIII and menaced by a bellicose and ambitious England and Spain. The cardinal does not wish to provoke an all-out war with France's neighbors, but he does want to keep the people stirred up and to direct their anger and frustration at the king while grabbing more and more power for himself.
Toward that end, he has created his own personal army to combat the Royal Musketeers and to exact taxes from the people. Already hard-pressed by the demands of the crown, one poor but proud man in Gascony dares to defy the cardinal's tax collector, only to pay with his life and that of his wife--but not before his small son, already a promising swordsman, manages to blind the collector in one eye and leave him scarred. Raised by the kindly and wise Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi), D'Artagnan grows up determined to head for Paris to join the Musketeers and to track down his parents' killer.
D'Artagnan and Planchet arrive in Paris to find the Musketeers demoralized, their captain, Treville (Michael Byrne), imprisoned by the cardinal on trumped-up charges. D'Artagnan takes lodgings at an inn run by a scurrilous old lecher who has designs on his lovely relative, Francesca (Suvari), who is the daughter of the queen's late seamstress. Francesca has the queen's ear and, in turn, would like to help her in her increasingly imperiled position at court. The king (Daniel Mesaguich) attempts to silence his consort to show who's boss, while the cardinal regards her as a threat. The arrival of D'Artagnan at this particularly volatile moment is like the match to the fire, and his nonstop adventure begins.
Chambers revealed his versatility in key supporting roles in his first two films, as a disenchanted WASP in "Liberty Heights" and as Jennifer Lopez's irrepressible Italian suitor in "The Wedding Planner," and he's just at ease playing a period hero. He and Suvari, whose poise equals her looks, are a most attractive and appealing couple.
After a series of splendid serious roles, Deneuve is clearly having fun as a queen who reveals that she can be as earthy and resilient as she is regal, refusing to be fazed by trudging through a sewer in her finest array or, in peasant disguise, joining in a tavern brawl.
Nobody right now seems to be able to play villains with such relish and conviction as Roth, while Rea has his own change of pace from sensitive, even wistful types with his steely Richelieu. Philip Harrison's superb production design, Raymond Hughes and Cynthia Dumont's wide range of costumes, Gigi Lepage's gowns for Deneuve and David Arnold's rightly thundering score all help bring alive Dumas' romantic, tumultuous world one more time.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for intense action violence and some sexual material. Times guidelines: While the violence is standard for the genre, it is too strong for small children.
The Queen: Catherine Deneuve
Francesca: Mena Suvari
Cardinal Richelieu: Stephen Rea
Febre: Tim Roth
D'Artagnan: Justin Chambers
A Universal Pictures and Miramax Films presentation of a D'Artagnan Productions, Ltd., Apollomedia, Q&Q Media and Carousel Picture Co. production with the support of Film Fund Luxembourg. Director-cinematographer Peter Hyams. Producer Moise Diamant. Executive producers Mark Damon, Steven Paul, Rudy Cohen, Frank Hbner, Romain Schroeder. Screenplay by Gene Quintano; based on the novel "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas. Editor Terry Rawlings. Stunt coordinator Xin-Xin Xiong. Music David Arnold. Costumes Raymond Hughes, Cynthia Dumont. Deneuve's costumes Gigi Lepage. Production designer Philip Harrison. Set decorator Milly Burns.
In general release.
"The Musketeer" is action-filled and D'Artagnan-centric.
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