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Hazardous Adventures

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Pathé Films

MOVIE REVIEW
The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan (2023)

The swashbuckling appeal of four Frenchmen fighting with swords or guns against various dastardly villains has stood up to plenty of adaptations, with the most recent English-language one back in 2011. That was kind of a mess – if you need Mads Mikkelsen to demonstrate his villainy by tying a busty blonde to the front of a C.G.I. flying sailing ship, you are almost certainly trying too hard – but it was also a comedic romp. Director Martin Bourboulon has a background in comedy, but with “The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan” he decided to get as serious as a gun stuck in your face. With this movie France has made a blockbuster adaptation for itself and doesn’t care whether audiences elsewhere will like it. Of course, this story is as close to a guaranteed smash hit as you can get, but they do it justice.

Young Charles d’Artagnan (François Civil) is riding to Paris to join the King’s Musketeers when he sees a pretty lady being menaced in a courtyard and unwisely tries to intervene. He is shot and buried alive, all before the opening credits, but this doesn’t dampen his spirits. On arrival in Paris, he immediately goes to see about the job but is offered a position in the cadets instead (so, basically an internship). While there, on his first morning in town, he ends up challenging three men to a duel, one after the other. The men turn out to be the individually terrifying musketeers Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris, who has never looked hotter) and Porthos (Pio Marmaï), who collectively are the most dangerous men in France. They are easy to tell apart: Porthos is greedy and horny (and explicitly bisexual!); Aramis is religious and horny; while Athos is sad about not being horny anymore. They are impressed by d’Artagnan’s bravado, but before they can get to dueling are rudely interrupted by the Cardinal’s men (the church is trying to undermine the monarchy, but why worry about the political machinations of the plot). There is a cracking fight in woodland where Nicolas Bolduc’s camera is almost its own character in the mayhem. This kind of first-person point of view is ordinary in video games, but less common in movies, where the blood and bodies fly from all directions and the action is experienced in an entirely subjective manner.

Suddenly our four brunets are the best of friends and d’Artagnan can even ponder flirting with his pretty landlady, Constance (Lyna Khoudri), who is also one of the queen’s attendants. But then two terrible things happen. First, the queen (Vicky Krieps) gives her English lover, Buckingham (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, who makes a major impression in this minor role), a necklace the king (Louis Garrel) insists she wear to a wedding a few days hence. Secondly, Athos awakes to find a naked blonde dead in bed beside him and a bloody dagger in his hand. Even for someone as arrogantly charming as d’Artagnan this is one hell of a first week at work. And all the while someone else is secretly moving against them: the pipe-smoking Milady (Eva Green), who generally needs only purr in a man’s direction to render him helpless.

This is Ms. Green’s first role in a very long time to fully understand her contempt for her own attractiveness and for anyone foolish enough to react to it. She carries her part with ease, giving the audience a lot of time to ponder the huge mistake the James Bond series made in “Casino Royale” by killing her off (considering how thoroughly she haunted all four sequels, they should have just let her live). Mr. Civil is a fast-rising French star who makes a winning lead; and Ms. Krieps does much better work here than she did in the misfire “Corsage.” Mr. Cassel is too old for his part – so much so other characters must comment on it – but his work, which as usual combines disgust, rage and self-awareness into a peculiar vulnerability, reminds us why he’s such a magnetic presence onscreen. Mr. Garrel pouts, Mr. Duris smolders and Mr. Marmaï laughs sloppily and all do fine work – but their casting reminds us this is a French production. It’s been some time since an English-language movie has been willing to cast people so physically similar in major parts. Some of that is to make it easier for audiences to tell lead characters apart, but other is a commitment to granting actors of color a fair place in historical adaptions. Ms. Khoudri got her big break with a small part in “The French Dispatch,” and this critic would pay a significant sum of money to learn her thoughts about her position in that movie in addition to this one.

The movie ends on a cliffhanger since “Les Trois Mousquetaires: Milady” is being released right before Christmas, but on its own this is a charming and entertaining adventure. The huge budget is obvious in every shot, while the C.G.I. is not, an act of restraint more ambitious movies would do well to emulate. The unusual camera techniques of the fight scenes – which feel like single takes, although that cannot possibly be the case – give an immediate sensory impact that removes the barrier of the historical setting. They are first-rate, full of subtle drama and nonstop action, with a belting pace and a modern feeling that surprises in a story so well-worn. Finally, the fact the entire plot hangs on a woman cheating on her husband causes not so much a raised eyebrow among the men whose lives are on the line as a result. French culture knows the heart wants what it wants; and they’ll defend to the death a woman’s right to choose her own boyfriend. Even if that person is sometimes English. Of course, even a musketeer knows, nobody’s perfect.

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