After my mediocre encounter with Black Death a couple months ago, my expectations were low for Jonathan English’s Ironclad. British period pieces tend to be drab, boring, or extremely far-fetched on film and so, I wasn’t too eager to see another one. However, I was quite relieved to find that English’s effort was a bit better than Black Death and definitely more entertaining.
The year is 1215 and for all you historians out there like myself, you’ll recognize that this was when the Magna Carta was signed. After years of heavy taxes and harsh punishment under Prince/King John, the barons, dukes, and earls of England banded together and forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, which created a Parliament that would give people a say in the matters of laws and government.
John plays along with the Magna Carta for a few months until he has enough time and resources to hire an army of Danish mercenaries. With their help, John intends to take back England for himself by executing everyone who signed the Magna Carta and by taking every castle in the country.
One town/castle, known as Rochester, is vital to John’s reclamation plans as it will allow supplies to be ferried in from his allies in Europe. A small group of rebellion supporters, including Baron de Albany and a Knight Templar named Marshal, realize that Rochester is the King’s objective.
Before setting out to protect the castle, Albany and Marshal learn that the French are sympathetic to their cause since they’re opposed to King John. They also plan to send a wave of reinforcements to help Rochester.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell how long it will take the French to arrive. With only a few days to their advantage, the group swiftly rides to Rochester castle so that they can defend it from the Danish mercenaries. The problem is that they have 20 men and are facing an army of several hundred that are armed with siege equipment.
What ensues is a several week siege of King John’s forces on the castle at Rochester. The small rebellious group does everything in their power to hold the castle, but without reinforcements, they are destined to succumb to the much larger force. With John running out of patience he is determined to capture or kill every last defendant. The biggest question is: Will the French arrive before it is too late?
To be frank, this film definitely appeals to the 18-35 male demographic, there’s no question about that. The highly stylized action and violence will definitely find some fans and for the most part, the film is entertaining. The casting is pretty good as well, with highlights including Giamatti playing an excellent villain.
Ironclad also includes some excellent cinematography throughout and unlike many violent films, the viewer actually cares what happens to the main characters as there is enough character development in the first third of the film.
Admittedly, Ironclad does have its share of negatives. First and foremost, there is definitely some pacing issues during the middle of the film, but in my opinion, the climax makes up for this. It’s very exciting and almost makes you forget about the slow parts.
Also, some of the script seems heavily cliched, especially during the battle scenes. Finally, as I noted before, this film is heavy on brutal violence so if you cringe at blood, then it would be best to avoid this one entirely. Is the violence overdone? Some may think so, but I feel that it helps reinforce the brutality of King John during his fight for the throne.
Ironclad arrives on Blu-ray with a transfer is about what you would expect for a film set in the 1200s in England. The color palette is mainly limited to blacks and grays, but there are occasional dashes of red and blue that liven things up a bit. Flesh tones appear to be accurate without any noticeable anomalies.
There is a fine layer of grain that remains consistent throughout the film’s run time without ever being overly noisy. I did spot some digital noise in a few brief darker shots, but they didn’t last but a few seconds. I also noticed some slight banding, which was also extremely brief in nature. Despite the above hiccups, blacks are well resolved without any problems. Fine detail is superb as many things are easily noticeable such the individual links of chain mail armor or the detailed scuffs of dirt and blood on the character’s faces. This may not be a memorable transfer, but it gets the job done without any major problems.
Faring slightly better’s the film’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is usually easy to comprehend in the center channel even during the more intense battle sequences. Pans between the fronts and surrounds are accurate whether it’s distant yelling, arrows whizzing by, or trebuchets launching flaming ordinance.
I would have liked to have seen more surround usage during the less intense scenes, but it does kind of give a surreal feeling while watching the film with everything being so quiet at certain times. Also, be prepared for this one to give your sub a workout as there is plenty going on in the LFE during the battle scenes. Due to some hard to hear dialogue in some of the quieter scenes I can’t say this is a reference mix, but it’s pretty darn close.
As for special features, English provides a feature length audio commentary that is decent, but there’s nothing really fantastic or standout about it. It’s mostly informative despite having a few too many tangents but it you enjoyed the film the track should make for a decent companion. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Ironclad works as a believable film on several levels, but due to its brutal and graphic violence it will not appeal to all audiences. However, if you’re into an entertaining ride that is something reminiscent of Braveheart, then I suggest at least giving this one a rental. In spite of some lousy script writing and some slow pacing, Ironclad managed to keep me on the edge of my seat. Will it do this for everyone? Probably not, but you should be able to tell if you’ll like this one before you even watch it.
Well choreographed action scenes and a great performance by Paul Giamatti make Ironclad fairly entertaining.