Count of Monte Cristo, The

2002 Release

Stars: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzman
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Writer: Jay Wolpert – Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas

It’s got love, adventure, and exquisite revenge, all served up with flair and a light touch of humor to make for an enjoyable cinematic event. It’s also the film where Jim Caviezel comes out of the closet and shows that he can do more than mope and moan, as past roles would have him do. It’s marred, however, by occasionally foolish dialogue and plot inconsistencies.

France, circa 1815. Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) is a naive and illiterate merchant sailor hoping to get his captain’s papers one day so he can afford to marry his beautiful finance Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Despite his lower class, Dantes is the envy of his aristocratic best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) who vies for Mercedes’ affections. On a cargo run, one day, Dantes makes the decision to land a small boat on the forbidden island of Elba, where Napoleon has been exiled, in order to save his seriously ill captain’s life. While there, he agrees to deliver a letter for Napoleon, taking the exiled leader’s word that it is merely a ‘personal letter to a friend’. Before the letter can be delivered, Dantes is betrayed to French authorities and suffers arrest and false imprisonment in the dreaded Chateau d’If on a rocky island far from civilization. Although warden Dorleac (Michael Wincott) agrees that Dantes is innocent of any crime, the sadistic jailer takes to whipping him bloody just for the hell of it. This he does once a year on the anniversary of Dantes’ arrival there.

With each passing year, Dantes gets dirtier and more crazed. Then one day, a fellow prisoner, a priest named Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), tunnels his way into Dantes’ cell. This blessed event is the key to Dantes’ life renewal. In exchange for Dantes’ help in tunneling, Faria promises to mentor him in book learning and the art of self-defense. When the old priest dies after a cave-in, his last breaths provide the clue to escape and a map to a fortune beyond all fortunes. After 13 years of imprisonment, Dantes’ only wish is for revenge against all who betrayed him. He is waylaid by pirates, loses another 3 years of his life, but gains a loyal friend in Jacopo (Luis Guzman), a disgraced pirate. Dantes finally locates the mysterious treasure which allows him to reinvent himself into the fabulously wealthy and absolutely gorgeous Count of Monte Cristo. His dirty rotten teeth now magically look as if they’re starring in a toothpaste commercial.

On his short list for revenge are former best friend Fernand Mondego, French police official Villefort (James Frain), his ship’s former first mate Danglars (Albie Woodington) and even poor Mercedes who married Mondego a mere month after Dantes was declared dead. And this is where the fun really begins.

The story is nicely paced, never rushed, nor too slow to bore. The plot inconsistencies mostly have to do with the imprisonment. If filmmakers are going to try playing realistic to the period, like paying attention to hygiene details then they should at least be consistent. Dantes has dazzling teeth when we first meet him, despite his low station in life; in prison they get pretty yucky but his fingernails never seem to grow or get too dirty; then when he becomes the Count, his teeth are once again sparkling. If I’m not mistaken, dentistry back then was not the art that it is today. Dantes never ages, even after 16 years of hardship, although Mondego’s teeth and skin do yellow and scar. None of the other main characters seems to have aged either; Mercedes is still quite ravishing upon his return. Then there’s all that tunneling going unnoticed back at the prison.

Lotta says: Richard Harris handles the role of the quirky Abbe quite nicely; he even does a nice turn as a swordsman when giving Dantes his self-defense lessons. Although marvelously out of place, Luis Guzman, with his gangster Latino looks and lisped speech, has some of the brightest moments and funniest lines in the movie. Dagmara Dominczyk as Mercedes has probably the dumbest line when she asks her former love if he suffered. Duh! And for all her beauty and seeming innocence, her character never really elicits much sympathy, making her reunification with Dantes at the end rather ho-hum. Guy Pearce suffers from full-fledged villainy; he has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. He’s easy to hate; for that Pearce does an excellent job. I was pleasantly surprised by Jim Caviezel who manages to ably portray both victim and then rabid avenger.

Ultimately, a stronger actor, and a more charismatic one, would have elevated this version to a level befitting its high drama. Sadly, the most lavish scene of the picture where the Count arrives at his “coming out” party via a hot air balloon replete with acrobats shimmying down ropes is sorely underplayed by the director. All the party guests have been waiting anxiously to meet the new rich guy in their midst and the director merely has Dantes say a quick hi and then walk off. The money alone spent on the set would have warranted more screen time than it actually receives! The 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo generally makes for a pretty picture where comeuppance plays center stage. Just ignore anything having to do with tunnels, fingernails, teeth and little bits of stupid dialogue.

Also features Henry Cavill as Albert and Alex Norton as Napoleon.

Reviewed 1/26/02