`Count's' tale is quality entertainment
By LIAM DACEY
Scene Movie Critic
If there is a film that provides a dramatic mix of action, betrayal and revenge, "The Count of Monte Cristo" is it. Due to the lack of recent efforts in this genre, the revival of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel is a fresh change of pace.
The story begins with the French protagonist, Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel), landing on the island of Elba. Dantes goes on to meet the great Napoleon, who gives him a letter to deliver back to Marseilles. As Dantes leaves the island, Napoleon comments that the world "is filled with kings and pawns."
This sets up the betrayal by Dantes' friend Mondego (Guy Pearce), who aids in sending him to solitary confinement on charges of treason. Mondego was extremely jealous of Dantes' life and especially of his girlfriend Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), whom he marries just a month later.
Dantes ends up in a small cell on the prison-island Chateau D'If, where he is trapped for years. The warden greets Dantes by telling him, "This [place] is for people they're ashamed of." Needless to say, the island makes Alcatraz look like Disney World.
Just about the time he starts to lose his sanity, Dantes meets the old and wise Faria (Richard Harris), a remarkably tough priest.
Faria was digging an escape tunnel but ended up burrowing up into Dantes' cell. However, the two quickly collaborate and start digging a new tunnel in the right direction, thus providing hope for an escape. At the same time, Faria teaches Dantes the art of sword fighting and how to read and write. This part of the film is definitely the most entertaining, as Dantes learns some life lessons and plans his breakout.
After Dantes escapes from prison in heroic fashion, the third part of the film commences and revenge is sought. With the assistance of his new friend Jacobo (Luis Guzman), whose life he spared, Dantes finds the treasure that his old friend Faria had told him about and is able to reinvent himself in society as the Count of Monte Cristo.
It takes a vast amount of planning and money to deceive his enemies, as Dantes throws lavish parties rivaling those of the Great Gatsby.
Caviezel's brilliant acting highlights this part of the film. Despite some cheesy lines mixed in, his charismatic and multi-dimensional performance keeps the film moving along. And despite the treachery that he uses to get back at his former friends, Edmund comes off as a pretty likable guy. After shaving his hair and buying some new clothes, Caviezel brings some mystery and charm to the Count that makes this possible.
The story also deals with Dantes' struggle with God. When he first enters his cell, he tells the warden that "God is everywhere." However, after escaping, he has lost all faith. By seeking his revenge, Dantes is able to sort through his beliefs and questions about faith.
This adaptation of Dumas' novel succeeds where earlier attempts in genre have failed ("The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Musketeer"). The rich atmosphere and the blending of action and drama simply make it fun to watch. Director Kevin Reynolds is careful in making sure that the film does not drag or become overdone in any way. Perhaps he learned a lesson from his "Waterworld" debacle.
In retrospect, a deeper beginning and ending may have made this film great, but as it stands now it is still more than worthy of seeing. After all, don't we all love a story where the good guy is able to claim his revenge? -- Three and a half shamrocks (out of five)
Contact Liam Dacey at email@example.com.
All Scene Stories for Thursday, January 31, 2002