THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (2002)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzmán, Michael Wincott, Albie Woodington, Henry Cavill
MPAA Rating: (for adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality)
Running Time: 2:11
Release Date: 1/25/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
The works of Alexandre Dumas have not fared well in recent film adaptations. The two most recent that come to mind are the uninteresting The Man in the Iron Mask and last year’s debacle The Musketeer. This adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo relies on relaying an abridged and straightforward telling. We’re saved of the devastation of a "re-imagining," and even though some dramatic license is taken with a few plot points, the well-worn strength of the story is the film’s as well. This is a classic tale told with enough respect for its source material to keep modern sensibilities out of sight. Perhaps it doesn’t dwell on its character development, political intrigue, or weighty thematic material, but that can be the job of a future adaptation. For now, this version is concerned with getting the basics of the story across and making an entertaining period adventure.
In the early nineteenth century, Napoleon has been exiled to the secluded island of Elba. In an attempt to save their captain’s life, Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel) and Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) land on the island and seek medical attention. Napoleon allows the use of his personal doctor but on one condition: Dantes must take a confidential letter back to France. Upon arriving, Dantes is promoted to captain of the ship and officially proposes to his longtime love Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Later that evening, Dantes is arrested for conspiracy and learns that his old friend Fernand revealed Dantes’ naive and accidental transgression. He is taken to the remote jail Chateau D’If, where the country’s innocent embarrassments are sent. News is sent to back home that Dantes was executed. After many years in solitude, Dantes is visited by a neighboring prisoner who has spent his decades in confinement tunneling the wrong way. The prisoner Faria (Richard Harris), an old priest, takes Dantes on as an accomplice and teaches him to read, write, speak foreign languages, swordfight, etc. To complete his generosity, the priest also reveals the existence of the fabled treasure of Monte Cristo—a discovery that will help Dantes exact his revenge on those who have wronged him.
Despite its story-heavy presentation, The Count of Monte Cristo has the feeling of an old-fashioned swashbuckler epic. The locales (filmed mostly in Ireland) are lush, and the attention to period detail is more than enough to look authentic and evoke the time. The cinematography and editing keeps away from flashy tricks and serves the straightforward telling nicely. The film’s major strength, though, is the ageless story. Director Kevin Reynolds keeps the yarn spinning, and the screenplay by Jay Wolpert indulges in the melodrama inherent to the material while only occasionally falling into the trap of poor dramatics. A few details of the story are altered. We are given a clear villain now, but the most obvious change from the source material comes near the finale, when a rendezvous between the hero and villain becomes a series of perfectly timed entrances. Up until then, the film is mostly true to the source, and even its digressions can be easily overlooked considering the amount of devious fun it is to watch Dantes’ plan unfold.
The performances in the movie serve no more purpose than the plot necessitates. Jim Caviezel makes a quiet, subtle hero—perhaps too much so. His transformation from ignorant innocent to vengeful aristocrat is effective, but a certain level of intensity seems subdued. A genuine screen presence more than makes up for any shortcomings in his performance, though. On the other hand, Guy Pearce gives a jovially wicked performance as Fernand. He grasps the refinement and treachery of his part and rolls them together into a solid villain. Richard Harris also has a lot of fun with his relatively small role as the priest.
The Count of Monte Cristo proves that you don’t need to "re-imagine" a classic to make it entertaining. It trusts the story it sets out to tell. It’s nothing revolutionary or earth shattering, and the movie is refreshing without trying to be so. I enjoyed its solid presentation and was caught up in its adventure. It’s far from the best this material could produce, but it’s successful on its own terms as period escapist entertainment.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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