Beyond the Mask Genre-Crossing Cinematic Brilliance
BEYOND THE MASK is the brainchild of writer Paul McCusker, brought to cinematic life by director Chad Burns. This is McCusker's first official screenplay, and Burns has one other film to his credit, PENDRAGON: SWORD OF HIS FATHER. One wouldn't guess their recorded lack of experience by watching this film. I found it to be exceedingly well done, with nicely choreographed action, well-crafted believable conflicts, exquisite settings and a rousing score by Jurgen Beck.
As the film opens, we are introduced to William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney), an assassin in the employ of the East India Trading Company in the mid-1700s. He's had his fill of the business, however, and turns in his notice to his employer, Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies, ONCE UPON A TIME). Unfortunately for Reynolds, he knows too much about Kemp's plans for the fledgling colonies to be allowed to live.
Barely escaping with his life, Reynolds hides under different identities, including a vicar and later a printer in the employ of Benjamin Franklin (Alan Madlane). But he's also out to avenge himself on Kemp by unsettling his plans, a mission he undertakes wearing a mask and the alias of The Highwayman. He quickly establishes himself as a hero to the colonists, stopping acts of British sabotage and saving the lives of children and patriots. This version of a colonial style Batman (with the inventive Franklin as a sort of Alfred) added a welcome element of steampunk action that I didn't anticipate.
Vengeance isn't Reynolds' only goal. After his supposed death, Kemp laid a lot of crimes he did not commit upon him, in addition to the ones he did commit. He's out to redeem his name and become worthy of the woman he loves, the beautiful and devout Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer). As Reynolds' becomes a thorn in Kemp's side, he learns that his path to redemption isn't one that he can pave himself, but is instead one that's already been paved for him. And as the fateful day of July 4, 1776 nears, he uncovers a plot that would throw the entire country into disarray and put them perpetually in service to the King.
Steampunk fans should rally to BEYOND THE MASK, as will families looking for films that have a broad appeal. There's plenty of action, plenty of romance, and a moral message that doesn't come down with a heavy hand. The build to the climax is done with even pacing, and if there was anything I would criticize it would be that the final battle scene moves a little slowly, with scenes seemingly voiced over and characters not moving as much as one would expect. Overall, however, BEYOND THE MASK is a genre-crossing film of cinematic brilliance.
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