The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) Movie Review

Who would have guessed that the French knew this much about revenge? Apparently novelist Alexandre Dumas knew more about vengeance than his contemporary countrymen, because his novels are ripe with revenge. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is another one of Dumas’ novels that have been made into movies countless times. The other two are “The 3 Musketeers” (which, oddly enough, actually features four Musketeers) and “The Man in the Iron Mask,” both of which have been recently remade into big budget Hollywood films, and will continue to be in the future.

Hollywood loves Dumas almost as much as they love that Shakespeare guy, so it’s no wonder “Count” gets the royal treatment yet again. The film stars James Caviezel (“Frequency”) as Edmond Dantes, an innocent and naïve young man who is betrayed by his brash and wealthy friend Count Mondego (Guy Pearce). After he’s framed for treason, Edmond is imprisoned and spends the next 13 years plotting his revenge. In prison, the illiterate and uneducated Edmond meets Faria (Richard Harris), an educated soldier turned priest turned prisoner for life. In exchange for helping him escape, Faria agrees to teach Edmond everything he knows. Finally escaping from the island prison, Edmond digs up a fortune in gold hidden by Faria and returns to France as the Count of Monte Cristo, determined to wreck vengeance on all who betrayed him…

Running well over 2 hours long, “Count” seems like only one hour. The film is so well written, acted, and directed that I could have used an extra hour just to iron out some of the plot holes. For example, after spending 13 years in the island prison, Edmond escapes and is forced to join a group of pirate smugglers. Cut to 3 months later, and Edmond has become best friends with the leader of the pirate and is setting off to get his revenge. I would have liked to see more of Edmond’s adventures with the pirates, where he received even more worldly education. But I suppose after spending an hour in the prison, director Kevin Reynolds (“Waterworld”) wanted to move on to the movie’s draw, the revenge part.

The acting is superb in “Count.” Guy Pearce (“Memento”) is so good as the flippantly evil Fernand Mondego that you can’t help but like this guy. Yes, Mondego betrayed his friend for the simple reason that he envies Edmond’s relationship with his girlfriend Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), but Pearce plays the part so naturally that you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re not supposed to like this guy. Just as Pearce convinces as Mondego, so too does James Caviezel as Edmond Dantes, young innocent turned somber revenge seeker. Caviezel’s transformation into the Count of Monte Cristo is so well done that it’s easy to see why most people don’t remember him. Caviezel has always turned in a soulful performance, helped by his smothering dark eyes, and along with Pearce, he’s truly one of the best actors to come out of the Hollywood machine in a long while. Brad Pitt has nothing on these guys.

The rest of the cast includes Dagmara Dominczyk as Mercedes, who is pretty but not overly beautiful, which doesn’t really matter because Mondego doesn’t want her because she’s the most gorgeous woman on the planet, but simply because “a guy like Edmond” has her. Luis Guzman shows up as Jacopo, a smuggler who becomes Edmond’s trusted confidant, and the intense Michael Wincott (“Alien: Resurrection”) is once again intense as a sadistic warden at the prison.

Obviously there are large chunks of the novel that are missing from the film, but that’s an unavoidable side effect of trying to condense a thick novel into a 2-hour film. Screenwriter Jay Wolpert does a fine job of making the movie coherent and the Count’s revenge plot understandable. His segments in the prison are stellar, and actually dwarf much of the film, even the Count’s revenge.

Action lovers might be a little disappointed because the film actually only features two lengthy swordfights, and the first one wasn’t much of a “fight” at all. Since the film was so entertaining, I didn’t notice the lack of action at all. There is also a glossing over of French politics of the time, but no one will care unless they really wanted to know. Fortunately French politics is as interesting to me as watching paint dry, so there you have it.

Kevin Reynolds (director) / Alexandre Dumas pere (novel), Jay Wolpert (screenplay)
CAST: James Caviezel …. Edmond Dantes
Guy Pearce …. Fernand Mondego
Richard Harris …. Abb’ Faria
James Frain …. Monsieur de Villefort
Dagmara Dominczyk …. Merc’des Iguanada
Luis Guzman …. Jacopo
Michael Wincott …. Dorleac

Buy Count of Monte Cristo on DVD