COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Edmond (Jim Caviezel) is a naïve and illiterate young sailor in love with the pretty Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). When his best friend Fernand (Guy Pearce) betrays Edmond in order to steal Mercedes, Edmond is banished to the infamous island prison of Chateu d’If, where he languishes for 13 years before making a dramatic escape, in the company of a fellow prisoner and mentor, Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), who teaches Edmond everything from reading to fighting. Faria also points him toward the secret treasure on the island of Monte Cristo, which Edmond wants to salvage and use to exact his revenge on those who stole his life and his girl.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Marvellous book, dreadful film. And little wonder. It’s a tremendous challenge to compress a long, complex, multi-character story such as this into the confines of modern cinema, and this is an irony not grasped by the filmmakers. Nothing rings true, which means that from the start we are inhibited from crossing our mental boundaries of the imagination to take flight into a past and a place where the story could unfold. Dumas’ story of a naïve innocent and his jailing that propels him to seek revenge is a subtle work and one that relies on lots of nuance, great humanity and superb characterisation to succeed on the screen. Here, the casting is flawed, the direction fuzzy, the editing nondescript and the collection of accents is like a bouquet of wildflowers – diverse and crude. As for the script, it flattens the literature from which it comes and stumbles into the wrong era with modern phrases that jar in the context of 19th century France. (“That could have been better handled …” for one.) Technically, the film seems abandoned: the 16 or so years that pass make little dent on our hero, despite him spending 13 savage years on stone floors eating slop-soup once a day (or the odd captured rat) at Chateau D’If – an island prison with a lifetime five star rating from the Vicious Prison Wardens Association. Nor does time ravage anyone else, like the ancient prisoner played by Richard Harris, with a nicely rounded tummy. Maybe rats are fattening.
Review by Louise Keller:
It’s cinematically impressive, but the magic of Alexandre Dumas' splendid tale is lost in this new version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a mish mash of good and bad elements that ultimately doesn't satisfy. It could and should have been a splendid swashbuckling adventure perfect for a Saturday matinee, but the script is sluggish and it's not until half way through the film that there is some momentum. Instead of being transported to another time and place and being swept away by the story, I found myself distracted by the details. Disappointing, because there are many good things about the film, which somehow become forgotten as the problems are dissected. The visual elements are excellent with immaculate production design and spectacular settings, especially the rugged natural landforms. Shot in Malta and Ireland (standing in for Marseilles, Paris, Rome and Monte Cristo), The Count of Monte Cristo looks great and Edmund Shearmur's orchestral score is complex and rich. In the key role of Edmond, Jim Caviezel has great presence and manages the complicated transformation over the time frame convincingly. But Guy Pearce is grossly misdirected as Fernand, his performance becoming a mannered caricature. It is rather frustrating that by the end of the film (16 years later), both Caviezel and Dagmara Dominczyk don't appear to have aged at all. I especially enjoyed characters like Richard Harris' long-term inmate and Luis Guzman's Jacopo ("I'm your man") – watching these thesps is a treat and both bring some entertaining moments. By the end of the film, my eagerness was triggered to have a look at the 1934 version with Robert Donat.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Jim Caviezel gives it a good shot but neither he nor Guy Pearce can save this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic from mediocrity. Roland V. Lee's thrilling 1934 version starring Robert Donat still towers above the opposition (12 features, 3 telemovies and 3 mini-series since 1908). Even with star power this one ranks alongside the middling efforts of Claude Autant-Lara in 1961 (starring Louis Jordan) and David Greene's 1975 telemovie with Richard Chamberlain. The warning signs are on full view in the advertising campaign. 'From the director of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' is the sell-line, but that was 1991 and it's worth remembering that since then Kevin Reynolds has been responsible for the spectacularly dreadful Rapa Nui and the spectacularly expensive (and modestly entertaining) Waterworld. The Dumas story is so bursting with life it would seem harder to fail than to succeed when bringing it to the screen but somehow Reynolds manages to stumble much of the time. There's no sense of exhilaration as honest sailor Edmond Dantes escapes from his prison hell-hole and re-emerges as the dashing Count seeking justice, revenge and his true love. It lumbers from one scene to the next, threatening to build momentum that never arrives. The casting and accents in this UK-Irish co-production filmed largely in Malta don't help much either. Guy Pearce and Jim Caveizel should have been swapped for a start. Caveizel's dark looks would seem better suited to villainy and Pearce's 'you can trust me' face is much more convincing in heroic circumstances. As it stands we have Pearce starting out with an Australian accent that turns plummy about half way through, Luis Guzman playing Caveizel's pirate offsider Jacopo with an urban LA Hispanic voice and gravel-voiced Michael Wincott playing the dastardly prison governor Dorleac as if he's still the rock star from Strange Days. Richard Harris (excellent) is exempt from scrutiny under living legend provisions. Sets and costumes-wise this scrubs up well. There's decent tortured romance between Caviezel and Dominczyk and a couple of good swordfights but it takes too long for everything to happen and when it does the camera direction is rather flat. An underwhelming enterprise though not without its bright spots.
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COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (M)
CAST: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Dagmara Dominczyk, James Frain, Luis Guzman, Richard Harris, Henry Cavill
PRODUCER: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber
DIRECTOR: Kevin Reynolds
SCRIPT: Jay Wolpert (from novel by Alexandre Dumas)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Dunn
EDITOR: Stephen Semel, Chris Womack
MUSIC: Edward Shearmur
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Geraghty
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 2, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: November 20, 2002