The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnon review — Pistols or blades at noon?

Directed by Martin Bourboulon | Written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière, based on the story by Alexandre Dumas | 122 min | ▲▲▲△△ | VOD and Digital

Here’s a curious case of Canadian distribution — a French film that finds its way to cinemas after it’s had distribution on VOD and digital. Having seen it myself on the big screen while in the UK, I can say that’s the best place for it, especially just before its sequel is set to arrive.

This is a huge-budget adaptation of the beloved Dumas adventure story and the first to be done in French language for decades. I grew up with the Richard Lester films from the 1970s and they helped define for me the pleasures of a swashbuckler. It’s fun to see this new one digging into the classic material, being told over two films (The Three Musketeers: Milady, shot back-to-back with this one).

This first picture has a sterling cast and glamorous production values, but it falls a bit short in a few directorial decisions.

It’s the 1620s and everything’s covered in mud, especially Charles D’Artagnan (François Civil), just arrived in Paris to sign up with the King’s personal guard, the Musketeers. Within minutes in the city limits he gets an attempt on his life and has to dig himself out of a shallow grave.

He also manages to insult all three of the most heroic of the Musketeers, Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris), and Porthos (Pio Marmaï), and earn a tripartite duel for around midday — which ends up being unintentionally funny since the filmmaker is clearly fond of shooting around the golden hour. Pretty dramatic shadows for noon!

This plotting is about as close to farce as a French movie can get while also taking itself entirely seriously. The seriousness is a bit of a surprise given how playful this material could be, but it’s not nearly as funny as I was hoping. Maybe something’s been lost in translation.

It turns out The Queen (a terrific Vicky Krieps) is having an affair with a Brit, which is complicating the lives of those serving the King (Louis Garrel) who need to make sure the Queen’s indiscretions aren’t discovered. This while hardcore Catholics Cardinal Richelieu (Éric Ruf) and the conniving Milady (Eva Green, the MVP here) plot to bring war on the Protestants by any means necessary.

A serious problem is the way Bourboulon chooses to shoot many of the action scenes. He prefers hand-held camera and long, uninterrupted takes. That requires choreography to do well, and it looks like that’s what he’s got happening, but the herky-jerky camerawork actually does a disservice to the efforts of the stunt people and to our enjoyment.

It’s too bad, really, given the strength in the cast, the sets and costumes, and a lot of energy expended all around. Here’s hoping the sequel brings more actual buckles swashed, and Eva Green front and centre. She’s having more fun than anyone.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.