DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
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COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, THE (director: Kevin Reynolds; screenwriters: Jay Wolpert/based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; cinematographer: Andrew Dunn; editors: Stephen Semel and Chris Womack; music: Edward Shearmur; cast: Jim Caviezel (Edmond Dantès), Guy Pearce (Fernand de Mondego), Richard Harris (Abbé Faria), Dagmara Dominczyk (Mercédès), Luis Guzman (Jacopo), James Frain (Villefort), Henry Cavill (Albert), Albie Woodington (Danglar), Michael Wincott (Dorléac, Warden), Alex Norton (Napoleon); Runtime: 110; Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment; 2002)

 
"A playful adaptation of the book..."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

"The Count of Monte Cristo," directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld), is a sumptuously photographed swashbuckler adventure story about the dangers of living in early-19th-century Marseilles. This is one of many versions of this often filmed novel. Screenwriter Jay Wolpert adapts it to the screen from Alexandre Dumas' classic, which is a good book for school-age children. This film is a playful adaptation of the book, as it is charged with good clean fun and action. It's fine if viewed as an old-fashioned escapist film, as it's one of the few adventure stories made today without special effects and computer graphics. For the book lovers, they should at least be pleased that most of the major themes from the novel remain intact: innocence, adultery, true love, betrayal, deception, suicide, many duels, and most of all revenge. What the film can't duplicate is its more literate dialogue, its style and its interpretation of revenge. If you want to capture the feel of what Dumas was driving at, read the book. But if you can live with just some flavor of the revenge story, then this film should satisfy.

The simple plot develops after a naive and handsome seaman, Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel), the son of a clerk, brings his sick captain for medical help to the Isle of Elba in 1814, where Napolean is a British prisoner. His childhood aristocratic friend Fernand de Mondego (Guy Pearce) sees Napolean give him a letter to deliver and when they safely return to Marseilles he conspires with the hateful first-mate Danglars (Albie Woodington) to turn Edmund over to the authorities for treason. He does this betrayal in order to jealously take away Edmund's fiancée from him, the lovely commoner Mercédès (Dagmara Dominczyk). Fernand is a mean-spirited villain who has no problem arranging this false arrest with the ambitious local magistrate in post-Napoleonic France, Villefort (Frain). This lands the unfortunate Edmund in a hellish island dungeon in the infamous prison called Château d'If, under the charge of a cruel warden (Wincott) who annually whips him.

Mercédès and Fernand are told that Edmond was executed, so after a month Mercédès marries the cold-hearted aristocrat. Mercédès, also, that year has a son, Albert. One day, after spending 13 years in this hellhole, Abbé Faria (Richard Harris) digs into Edmund's dungeon cell while trying to escape. Faria is a soldier-priest and is the prototypical wise man, who acts to give the poor soul teaching lessons in book and oral knowledge, hope, fighting skills, love of God, philosophy, and also a plan to escape (Don't ask how the priest got all those teaching books used for the lessons into the prison!).

Taking advantage of the priest's accidental death the vengeful Edmund escapes, only to swim to the next island where there are pirates waiting for him. One of whom, Jacopo (Luis Guzman), is about to be executed by them for stealing from them. Edmund is forced to have a knife fight with him as a means of pirate justice to see who should live. He manages to win; but, instead of killing his opponent, he connives to work out a deal where they both live as pirates. Jacopo becomes his loyal second for life -- someone to always watch his back.

The two close friends strike out on their own and come across a great treasure under the sea with the map the priest gave Edmund. They go back to France with tremendous wealth and Edmund now takes on the bogus identity of the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, and carefully plots his revenge against all those who wronged him.

Guy Pearce, the most heavy-handed villain, hams it up and begs the audience to hiss at him. As for the hero, at last, Edmund comes to believe that justice can be had in lieu of revenge. But this is just not quite what Dumas was trying to get at in his writing. The film fails to make Edmund into a man of shadings, and instead makes Edmund into a typical action hero. In the superior 1934 film version with Robert Donat, more emphasis was placed on our hero finding what were all the villain's flaws and using that against them. But it is still only in the book itself where you see how the villains practically do themselves in, as Edmund thereby exacts his revenge in a more intelligent and penetrating way.

REVIEWED ON 2/12/2002     GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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