The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) Review
They used to make movies like this all of the time. The kind of swashbuckling adventure that threw in so many plot elements neatly and cohesively into one thrilling film. Director Kevin Reynolds managed to garner massive audiences with his very anachronistic retelling of the Robin Hood legend in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and is now trying his hand at Alexandre Dumas.
The Count Of Monte Cristo tells the story of a young sailor named Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel), a man who plans to marry his sweetheart Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) as soon as he is promoted to Captain. However, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) has also buried a deep jealousy towards Edmond, especially concerning the beautiful Mercedes. Using some false evidence of treason linking Edward to Napoleon, Fernand has him locked away in the brutal fortress of Chateau D'If, thereby clearing the path for his opportunity to move in for Mercedes. Imprisoned with only his wits about him, Edmond meets the eccentric Abbé Faria (Richard Harris), a wise old prisoner who teaches him many new skills, and most importantly, the location of vast treasure hidden around Monte Cristo. Together with Faria, Edmond plans an escape and a recovery of the treasure, which will aid his quest for revenge against those that have enforced his imprisonment.
The Count Of Monte Cristo helps us to reminisce about this forgotten age of cinema, in which audiences never know which direction the films were taking in pursuit of grand adventure. It doesn't have Errol Flynn, but it does have a very capable lead in Jim Caviezel, a man destined surely to break the A-List celebrity league with his likeable charm and honest persona. In contrast to Caviezel, his co-star Guy Pearce, the Australian that used to be seen twice daily as Mike in Neighbours, seems to already amassing himself a sizeable cult following, with excellent turns in L.A. Confidential, Ravenous and Memento. The lead actors manage to effectively take their roles in the film seriously enough whilst ensuring they still have fun. In fact, Richard Harris threatens to outshine everybody with what is his best performance in years. Harris adds tremendous charisma and comic relief to Faria, whilst throwing in some splendid poignancy that sets the film in good stead for its third act.
The Count Of Monte Cristo feels a lot longer than it actually is, and in this case this isn't a bad thing, as the film jumps from so many plot lines and threads that it's often hard to catch a breath. Newer, more interesting characters seem to appear out of the woodwork when you least expect it, and they give the film a sense of literary importance amongst classic novel adaptations. The plot is never hard to follow; indeed plot elements are directed so assuredly by Kevin Reynolds that it's hard to imagine this is the same man who directed Waterworld. Dumas' original novel was the ultimate redemption story, and credit should go to director Kevin Reynolds for tackling an adult adventure with such intelligence and technical flair that what results is a film that doesn't rely on anything above a 'PG' rating in tone.
Essentially, it's hard to fault The Count Of Monte Cristo since it comfortably hits all of the targets it aims for without the material being compromised, in the form of delivering a thoroughly enjoyable grand adventure that both young children and adults can enjoy. It's lacking any virtuoso flair to ever be considered a masterpiece, but it excites you and wears you out just like the classic adventures used to, and this is all we ask it to do.