The Count Of Monte Cristo

 Alexandre Dumas’s classic masterpiece, The Count Of Monte Cristo, has been remade many times already. 13 films (the first in 1908 and the latest before this one was a Russian language version in 1988), 3 TV movies and another 3 TV series and that doesn’t include the 30 odd adaptations on stage. So having a 2002 version seems redundant, but having said that with the current Hollywood trend of rehashing films, books and TV series with pumping techno soundtracks and flashy visuals (Romeo & Juliet, Charlie’s Angles, The Avenger), it comes as a relief that director Kevin Reynolds gives us a film free of these ‘modern’ constraints. 

For those not familiar with the story, we begin with two life long friends, Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel) and Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) landing on an island, Elba, where Dantes is unwittingly given a letter to deliver by the exiled Napoleon who resides under guard there. After arriving back in Marseille, Dante visits his fiancée Mercedes (the gorgeous Dagmara Dominczyk) and it is clear that the friendship between him and Fernand is more than a little shaky. Fernand has designs on Mercedes also.  

Inevitably, Fernand betrays Dantes to the authorities, claiming that he is guilty of treason, due to the letter from Napoleon on his person. Before he realises what is happening, Dantes is whisked to Chateau D’If, a prison where Frances ‘embarrassments’ are kept under the watchful eye of the cruel warden Dorleac  (Micheal Wincott). Within a month his darling Mercedes has married the treacherous Fernand, while Dante rots in solitude. His contact with humans is normally twice a day when his hatch opens; once for the removal of his toilet bucket and once to deliver his sloppy meal. Apart from that the only other contact is when Dorleac lashes prisoners on the anniversary of arrival. 

So Dantes, oblivious to what’s happening in the outside world, spends the next four years stewing in his private hell, when suddenly a fellow prisoner, Faria (the excellent Richard Harris) accidentally tunnels his way into Dantes cell. Faria convinces Dantes to help dig another tunnel and in return he will teach Dantes things that he desires, to read and write, culture and how to fence. However, Faria also teaches Dantes the most important lesson; the location of a huge hidden treasure.  

When he finally does escape, after sixteen years spent in jail, Dantes hooks up with some smugglers who take him in as one of their own. With hatred towards his old enemies still raging in his heart, Dantes and the smugglers part company when they arrive in Marseille. Dante, along with his faithful companion Jacapo (Luis Guzman – who’s always fun to watch) find the hidden treasure, which is much more than they ever imagined. Dantes reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, and with the assistance of Jacapo heads to Paris to destroy the ones who destroyed and stole everything that was dear to him.  

With treasure maps and double crossed friendship, its an old fashioned swashbuckling affair and quite rightly so. After all, the book was written in 1844. With any classic story, faithfulness to the source material is key and this version of the film is pretty good. Granted the language is slightly modernised, but doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film. The sticking points are ‘time’ dependant. Bearing in mind that Dantes has spent 16 years in prison, he returns with no changes except for a different hairstyle and a goatee beard, yet no one recognises him – including the love of his life. Speaking of which, she still looked damn fine and hasn’t aged a day over the 16 years either.

Director Kevin Reynolds has redeemed himself somewhat after the Waterworld fiasco. Thankfully its not a modernised rehash but and old fashioned movie with epic landscapes and beautiful visuals. Caviezel does an admirable job especially transformation from the innocent-looking Dantes to the vengeful Count (who’s very ‘Errold Flynn’ almost to a point of caricature). Guy Pearce seems to develop a poncy accent somewhere along the way, but is vile enough to merit the audiences’ hatred. Richard Harris and Luis Guzman are bar far the two best characters to watch. Harris as the old priest Faria, bordering on his own insanity, yet still being a noble figure is great. Guzman, who has a very distinct look about him, is cast in a more humorous role than he’s normally used to, such as in film like Traffic and Carlito's Way. His character tries to reason with Dantes, saying why not just let him go to Paris, kill Dantes enemies and then he can get on with his life.

End of the day, The Count Of Monte Cristo is an old fashioned film with an old fashioned style. Very enjoyable and captivating, the film has very few bad points. It’s an enjoyable adaptation of a classic story, which cannot be a bad thing in this day of digital shenanigans.  

SCORE 8/10