Character study, history lesson, and bloody war story, "Ironclad" adds up to the sum of its violent parts (though just barely). The film fills in blanks in the year 1215, when King John of England (played with scene-chewing amusement by Paul Giamatti) reneges on his signing of the Magna Carta. Refusing to relinquish his royal prerogatives, John dispatches a mercenary army to kill off the barons who agreed to sign the historic charter
Brian Cox's Baron Albany is not one to suffer a fool such as King John gladly. He gathers a group of 20 warriors to seize the strategically important Rochester Castle, from which they can hold off King John's troops while awaiting military aid from the French. The physically contained story shows how 20 men were able to keep an army of a thousand troops at bay for many weeks.
Director Jonathan English ("Minotaur") stages his brutal 13th century battles for all of their brain-splattering fury. Arms are severed and bodies are split open. Templar Knight Marshal (memorably played by James Purefor) wields his mighty Crusade-proven sword in battle when he isn't being romantically drawn out of his religious shell by Isabel (Kate Mara), the wandering-eye wife of castle-keeper Baron Cornhill (Derek Jacobi). The audience is left to ponder the lengths to which a few men went in order to protect something that America decided to throw away in recent years, democracy and individual rights.
Rated R. 98 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
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