Retro Review: Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas is alive and well in the re-telling of his epic story about lies, betrayal, love, imprisonment, revenge, and eventually justice. Dumas’ timeless tale has weaved through Hollywood since its awakening in the silent era of feature films. The “Count” was first chronicled in a 1913 film starring James O’Neill as Edmond Dantes. Since that awakening there have been over 35 films dedicated to unearthing this epic story that was originally conceived in 1844. This epic story is definitely timeless.

The 2002 version starts off with Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) and Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) as best friends who end up having to bring their ship’s captain to the isle of Elba. Upon that isle is the exiled emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who wishes Edmond to deliver a letter to an old friend in Marseilles.
Upon his return to Marseilles, Edmond is betrayed by two of his friends in connection to Napoleon’s letter.

Edmond is ripped away from his fiancé, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) and thrown into a cryptic prison governed by a ruthless warden (Michael Wincott). There Edmond meets Faria (Richard Harris) who teaches him about the world and about the treasure of Monte Cristo. Edmond plots his revenge and a way to escape. What will happen when Edmond lets loose his wrath upon his ex-friends? Will they remember him after being gone some 16 years?

What can you say about an epic timeless tale that seems to get better with age? I can remember the 1975 version starring Richard Chamberlain as an epic tale. But what director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) has dreamed up this time may even dwarf that version.

First off, this film is very Kevin Reynolds. It’s a story about good vs. evil and a heroic story flowing in between. In other Reynolds’ films like “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Waterworld” and “Rapa Nui”, we all had materials for an epic struggle between good vs. evil. Aside from Reynolds’ “187”, that seems to be a staple for a Reynolds’ films. This epic heroism flows through “Count of Monte Cristo” like a brush oozing with paint and we embrace it.

Jim Caviezel (“Angel Eyes”, “Frequency”) delivers the best performance I think I have ever seen him do. I haven’t thought much of Caviezel after he burst into the Hollywood spotlight in “Thin Red Line” but this film really allows me to see a “new” Jim. I like how he slowly evolves Dantes from being innocent and naïve to being heroic and malevolent.

I was also impressed with the performance of his nemesis Guy Pearce. Pearce continues to impress after he dazzled us last year in “Memento”. I can’t wait to see what he does when he stars in another literary classic “The Time Machine” this March. Pearce has a torment swelling up in his eyes in some of the scenes that is utterly precious to watch.

For actor Michael Wincott this is kind of a reunion. Wincott also starred in Reynolds’ “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” as Guy of Gisborne and also starred in another Dumas epic “The Three Musketeers” in 1993.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this film was the locations in which it is filmed. The giant cliffs, caverns, and villas are just oozing with grandeur as this story unfolds. I also loved the final scene’s waving blades of grass with tiny pathways through the vibrant green. The film is amazing to look at from this perspective as you can’t possibly believe this epic could be told anywhere else.

I have always been a fan of swashbuckling duels and the battles in here are nicely choreographed. I was nice to see a film return to this kind of swordplay.

My only main problem with “Count” was that the scenes between Harris and Caviezel are long and drawn out. I felt the film spent too much time inside the prison. I wanted to see more of what was going on outside the prison.

I would have liked to have seen the film focus more on Edmond’s vengeance plan then on two ragged and ruined men. I would have also liked seeing more of what was happening between Mercedes and Mondego. Mercedes comes off as quite cold and cruel through some parts of the film. At least that is how I saw it.

This film is a great and wild return to the land of Dumas unlike what “The Musketeer” did last year. I do hope to see more of the lesser known Dumas stories come to Hollywood because a lot of those people know little about them.

Long Live, Alexandre Dumas.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

You can read the original literary classic online at this website. Enjoy!

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