The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

You can't go wrong with Alexandre Dumas. As a writer of adventure yarns, he is supreme. Of the many cinematic adaptations of his most famous novel, the 1934 version, with Robert Donat, remains the favourite. This latest, directed by Kevin Costner's friend Kevin Reynolds, is plodding, ill-conceived, unexciting and humourless.

You can go wrong with Alexandre Dumas. Take his story, embellish it with Maltese/Irish locations, rearrange the relationships and have Frenchmen speak all kinds of accents. Reynolds does more. He makes the hero, Edmond Dantes, a naive dunce. Perhaps that is Jim Caviezel's fault. Rather than rise to the occasion, as Costner did in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and give a bravura performance out of all proportion to the context of the times, he internalises the character, as if attempting a Method actor's interpretation of a simple-minded swashbuckler, circa 1815.

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Guy Pearce, on the other hand, as the villain of the piece, might have walked straight off a pantomime stage. With his tally-ho English vowels, he overplays the alcoholic dandy to a degree that makes everyone else look like a party pooper. If he had an arrow pointed at his head, with the message I AM THE BAD GUY, he couldn't have made it more obvious, which only emphasises Edmond's stupidity at trusting him.

The plot in a nut is that Edmond loves Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Fernand (Pearce) loves her, too. With the help of the corrupt Marseilles chief magistrate (James Frain), Edmond is locked away in the dreaded island fortress of Chateau D'If on a trumped up charge. Mercedes is told that he has been executed. Fernand marries her. Edmond makes friends with Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), dotty priest, fellow convict and human mole.

After 13 years of beard growth and no washing, Edmond escapes and sets about his revenge on those responsible for his incarceration. "Death is too good for them," he says. "They must suffer as I suffered." The audience suffers, too.

If Reynolds had repeated his tongue-in-cheek approach, as per Robin Hood, the film might have found a pulse. Pearce's arrogant aristocrat is no match to Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham and Caviezel is no match to a movie star of your choice. Edmond requires the qualities of a romantic hero, which means Errol Flynn, rather than Gary Cooper's boring brother.

Even an old pro like Harris can barely scratch the scabs off the script. Dressed like a dosser, he shuffles about, teaching Caviezel how to make banal lines sound halfway decent. Alex Norton pops up as Napoleon and you think it's John Sessions taking the piss. If only. Michael Wincott's warden of the Chateau D'If does nothing but whip prisoner Dantes every 12 months, just to remind him that he's still alive. You wonder what an actor has to do to stay sane around here.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2002
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Swashbuckling adaptation of Dumas' story of a vengeful count.
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Director: Kevin Reynolds

Writer: Jay Wolpert, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas

Starring: James Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzman, Michael Wincott, Albie Woodington, Henry Cavill, Alex Norton

Year: 2002

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/USA


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