The Count of Monte Cristo review

:. Director: Kevin Reynolds
:. Starring: James Caviezel, Guy Pearce
:. Running Time: 2:00
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA

Just when you had lost any hope of ever seeing a decent Hollywood adaptation of an Alexandre Dumas novel—recall the excruciating The Musketeer, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers—along comes the dark and mysterious Jim Caviezel, who under the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo avenges years of shameful swashbuckling pictures.

In this well-known tale of revenge, Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a young and innocent sailor from Marseilles, whom after being betrayed by his jealous best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) is imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d'If. During his stay in this hardly hospitable prison—his warden (the usually cruel Michael Wincott) whips him for each anniversary of his stay—he befriends inmate Abbe Farria (Richard Harris) who teaches him philosophy, science and the art of fencing. Before dying, the priest gives him the location of an immense treasure that Dantes recovers after a daring escape. Returning to France under the name of the lavish Count Monte Cristo, he uses his fortune to get back at those who sent him to jail and meets again with his former fiancee Mercedès (Dagmara Dominczyk), now married to Mondego.

Though based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, the film takes some liberties with the book. In this updated version, Mondego is Dantes' best friend instead of only being a rival in love. Surprisingly, this variation has been written with intelligence and adds to the drama and the psychology of Mondego's character. While an interesting twist has been added to the escape from Chateau d'If, the main—and predictable—difference is in the conclusion, a Hollywood happy ending. It is certainly regrettable that the screenwriter didn't keep the original bittersweet finale, but this is after all an old style and charming swashbuckling film and at least, contrary to the supposedly faithful French adaptation with Gerard Depardieu, it does not sink into unexpected ridicule.

This Count of Monte Cristo isn't totally satisfying either. The cheesy factor isn't lacking in the Mercedès character as well as in the final confrontation where everybody shows up out of nowhere to set things straight. Lots of subplots from the novel aren't present or have loose ends here which doesn't give us enough time to full enjoy all the subtle mechanisms of the count's vengeance. To the film's defense, it would have been a daunting task to summarize in two hours such a voluminous book.

Kevin Reynold's direction is quite successful. The director brings back the thrills of 1940's movies, preserving their original charm while bringing a modern visual style. The prison sequences are sinister but do not lack humor and the scene of the Count's arrival in a balloon is just pure enjoyment. But the most impressive scene is undoubtedly the final duel shot with a rare kinetic and stylish approach (this should teach a lesson to the team behind The Musketeer.) Finally, once you know that Kevin Reynold's is the man behind such Kevin Costner's ego vehicles as Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, you will appreciate even more his self-control and that he didn't cast the Razzie champion in the lead role.

A strength of the film is to have assembled an almost flawless cast instead of just going for big stars. The subtle Jim Caviezel has the innocence of Edmond Dantes and the darkness of Count Monte Cristo. Guy Pearce shows another side of his talent with an impressive take on a much-layered nemesis while a succession of colorful supporting actors such as Richard Harris, Luis Guzmán and Michael Wincott bring pure fun. The only problem is that Dagmara Dominczyk is so bad that you have a hard time believing that such two important men as Monte Cristo and Mondego would fight over her.

Unlike Hollywood's latest attempts to the genre, this Count of Monte Cristo doesn't deserve to be sent to the Chateau d'If.

  Fred Thom

     The Count of Monte Cristo - Feature
     The Count of Monte Cristo - The Novel
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