movie film review | chris tookey

Count Of Monte Christo

Spyglass Entertainment Group, L.P. Photo by Alber - all rights reserved
  Count Of Monte Christo Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
6.09 /10
Edmund Dantes: James Caviezel , Mondego: Guy Pearce , Faria: Richard Harris
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Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Jay Wolpert. Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas Sr.

Released: 2002
Origin: US/ GB
Colour: BW
Length: 118

A handsomely mounted version of Alexandre Dumas's classic action-adventure.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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For those who haven't read the novel, set in Napoleonic times, it's about an honourable but naive young adventurer called Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel, pictured second left) who is betrayed by his upper-class chum Fernand (Guy Pearce, pictured second right), a drunken, libidinous cad who has eyes for Edmund's fiancee and seizes the opportunity to have his rival thrown into jail on a trumped-up charge of treason.

Edmund spends most of the next decade growing madder and hairier, until his cell is unexpectedly invaded by an even battier fellow inmate named Faria (Richard Harris), who's on a botched escape bid.

"There are 5,119 stones in my walls," Dantes wails to Faria. "I have counted them."

"Yes," cackles Faria, who looks as if he's been inside since the dawn of time. "But have you named them all yet?"

It is Faria who teaches him - in the tradition of Anthony Hopkins re-educating Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro - to read, write and fight. He even throws in the map to some buried treasure on the island of Monte Christo.

Suddenly free and the wealthiest man alive, Edmund reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Christo. He sets about gaining his revenge and turning Paris into a sort of Dantes inferno.

This is a classic tale, not least because it makes you feel angry and vengeful on the leading man's behalf. You share in the hero's pleasure at growing from a foolish, illiterate sailor into a civilised human being. The sudden access to wealth gives you the vicarious thrill of becoming a Lottery-winner.

Last but not least, the story shows why it is important to conquer such negative feelings as revenge - a message that's at least as relevant within the context of current world events, as in Dumas' day.

If this isn't a classic film, that's partly because Jim Caviezel, though a strong, introspective actor, makes a dull and distant romantic lead. And the woman he holds a torch for over two decades (played by a Polish actress named Dagmara Dominczyk, pictured right) doesn't seem worth getting upset over.

As in the case of two previous films by the same journeyman director, Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves and Waterworld - the movie is not so much stolen as comprehensively plundered by more charismatic supporting actors. Richard Harris is splendid while he is on, and Guy Pearce has a fine old time finding the arch in arch villain. The movie would have been a lot livelier with him playing the lead.

Writer Jay Wolpert doesn't concern himself overmuch with trying to write dialogue that betrays a sense of period. Something tells me that early nineteenth century Frenchmen didn't go round telling each other not to get stressed.

Nor does Wolpert do anything to disguise the creakiness of Monsieur Dumas' plotting. Dantes' escape from the Chateau d' If is impressive only if you don't start asking some awkward and rather obvious questions about elementary security precautions.

The length of Dumas' novel lends itself more to mini-series than to feature films, because the act of compressing its vast storyline into two hours reduces the depth of human interest, and exposes the numerous plot holes.

Still, there's plenty of action and derring-do, a few funny moments, and more lavish costumes and production design than you could shake an epee at. It's the kind of undemanding action movie that used to star Errol Flynn, and will entertain you as long as you're prepared to check in your brain at the door.

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