Count of Monte Cristo, The

Reviewed By Matt Mulcahey
Posted 01/28/02 16:50:50

"They ruined my favorite fucking book! Bastards!!!!!!!"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

When transferring a complicated, dark novel of vicious revenge to the screen, itís understandable that a few alterations might be needed. As long as the filmmakers hold true to the themes and tone of the original, these changes are acceptable. After sitting through this umpteenth film version of The Count of Monte Cristo, it doesnít appear director Kevin Reynolds even bothered to read the book. In fact, it seems he didnít even skim through the Cliff Notes.

Though Reynolds is no stranger to straying from source material (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) or unmitigated disaster (Waterworld), The Count of Monte Cristo marks the first time heís managed to do both in the same picture.

The story begins with a pair of French sailors, Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel) and his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), landing on the isle of Elba to seek medical attention for their dying captain. Elba happens to be the home of exiled French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and is heavily guarded by English soldiers ordered to fire on anything and everything that lands on the island. Thus begins the first of many gigantic departures from the novel, and the first of many excuses for indifferently executed action sequences.

The duo eventually finds the help they seek, meeting Napoleon in the process. The revered Emperor pulls Dantes aside, asking him to deliver a personal letter back to France which begins his downfall.

Mondego is overcome with jealousy as Dantes is promoted to captain and prepares to wed the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominryzk). With the help of bitter sailor Danglers (Albie Woodington) and ambitious magistrate Villefort (James Frain), Mondego hatches a conspiracy, landing Dantes in the Chateau díIf, an infamous prison were innocent prisoners are sent to rot.

While imprisoned Dantes meets Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), incarcerated for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of an enormous treasure, who begins to tutor him as the they attempt to dig a tunnel to freedom.

Dantes eventually escapes, along with the location of the hidden treasure on the isle of Monte Cristo. Once he finds the treasure, Dantes takes the disguise of the wealthy, mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, seeking revenge against those whoíve wronged him.

At this point Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert decide to invent their own story, turning Alexandre Dumasí complex and layered tale of justifiable revenge into a simple story of love overcoming hate, backed by an array of sword fights and inept comic relief.

The biggest mistake the film makes lies in making Mondego and Dantes best friends. In the novel, Mondego was a fellow suitor of Mercedes who barely knew Dantes. This fact made Dantes fate all the more unbearable, as his happiness was taken by forces he didnít understand and people he barely knew.

The fact that Dantes knows full well his chief betrayer cheapens his bitterness and pain, and also makes it utterly ridiculous when Dantes returns as the Count and Mondego doesnít recognize him. Even though over a decade has passed, Dantes still looks and sounds the same with the exception of one brilliant piece of disguise: A goatee, which manages to fool almost everyone.

It couldíve been worse, as least Reynolds didnít cast his favorite leading man Kevin Costner in the title role. Instead of Johny Depp of Val Kilmer, who wouldíve both been perfect for the part, we get James Caviezel. Caviezel manages to convey the bewilderment of the betrayed Dantes, but fails to capture the turbulent, tortured soul of the Count.

After the recent kung-fu version of Dumasí The Three Musketeers, Kevin Reynolds should be thankful that the writer has been dead for over a century. Who knows what kind of revenge Dumas might have dreamed up for this bastardization of his wonderful novel.

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