Movie Review: Beyond the Mask
Beyond the Mask is an ambitious movie. It attempts to blend romance, action, historical drama, and Christian messages all into a very fast paced script. Does it succeed? To find out, read on.
The story centers around William, an assassin for the East India Company during the time period just before the American Revolution. William wants out, but he knows too much and his employers have other plans for him. Escaping his untimely demise, he takes on a new identity as a parish preacher not because of any real faith but because the job simply falls into his lap. As he attempts to live a quiet life and forget about his past, he becomes increasingly fond of the noble Charlotte, a young lady in his church whose faith in God is much more genuine.
As the story unfolds the ghosts from William’s past refuse to leave him be and eventually force him to start all over again with a new identity, this time in America. As fate would have it, Charlotte and her uncle (the villain of the story) arrive there shortly after William. It is then that the movie really gets going as William takes on yet another identity, that of a masked vigilante, attempting to foil the plots of the man he once worked for and prove his worthiness to his heart’s one true love.
This movie is extremely well made. The costumes, acting, and sets for the most part do an excellent job of sweeping the audience off to a time gone by. And yet the actual plot feels more like something from James Bond or perhaps even closer, National Treasure. Set against a backdrop of historical characters like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, the movie has a familiar feel and yet the events of the plot are pure fiction and certain elements feel a little more modern than perhaps they should.
What I enjoyed most about Beyond the Mask was the nobility of the characters. It was a nice change of pace from a cinematic landscape mired with anti-heroes and moral ambiguity. Charlotte is truly virtuous and the romantic elements are very understated. William, even though he has doubts about God, genuinely tries to do the right thing and comes across as earnest and likable. The sympathetic characters drew me into the story and made me wonder how they would overcome the obstacles the plot kept throwing their way.
Beyond the Mask did feel stiff at times with some of the transitions between the different periods of William’s life. This stalled some of the character development because the story made big jumps without really showing us an obvious connection. The “mask” section of the movie (where William becomes something of a folk hero, sort of like Paul Revere on steroids) was particularly weak in this regard which I thought was a shame because it was the central section of the film. William’s daring escapades were told largely through montages and that made the vigilante identity less believable. In general there was just some weakness in either the script or the editing that made certain aspects of the plot and characters get lost in translation.
For the most part the acting was excellent, though at times a scene or two did fall flat. The weakest performance in the main cast came surprisingly from John Rhys-Davies, Charlotte’s uncle. His villain came across as a bit cliched and inconsistent. He didn’t really evoke fear or come across as diabolical so much as he simply seemed to be doing bad things because that was his role in the film. Particularly at the end he seemed to devolve into a mess of evil and I really had no idea why he was doing what he was doing.
The Christian aspects of the film are fairly understated, but they are definitely there. A handful of conversations between Charlotte and William deal with God and one crucial moment when (spoiler alert) William gives his life to Christ (my favorite moment in the film) are really the main Christian aspects of the film. It is essentially a redemption story so there is that as well, but the spiritual moments tend to get lost in all the swashing and buckling and historical events, which appear to be the main attraction here.
All in all, despite my quibbles, I highly recommend Beyond the Mask. If you’re willing to gloss over the occasional script issues and the somewhat anachronistic plot elements its a delightful little film. Certainly this is something that the cast and crew can take pride in for it is a story with a good heart and refreshingly noble characters that will keep you routing for them until the twilight’s last gleaming.