Posted: 01/27/2002


The Count of Monte Cristo


by Chris Wood

Can revenge heal the wounds of betrayal?

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As in most of the greatest stories of revenge, the main goal is to have the audience rooting for the protagonist to exact the punishment that he or she sees fit for the unruly deed bestowed upon them. (Well, hoo-rah!)

“Death is too good for them,” Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel, Frequency), incognito as The Count of Monte Cristo, exclaims to his loyal sidekick Jacopo (Luis Guzman, Traffic). Jacopo has committed himself to protect Dantes ever since the latter spared his life during a knife fight.

Dantes, however, was not always such a vengeful soul and his heart and thoughts were only of the sea and a woman, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk, Rock Star), who claims total devotion to this gullible Gilligan, a man who reaps the benefits of his good nature and loyalty by taking the risk of breeching a dangerous island, alleged to be occupied by the ousted Napoleon, in order to get his ailing Captain medical attention. Although the Captain does not live, Dantes is rewarded for his lack of concern for his own safety by being made captain of the vessel on which he had been second mate.

Ah, but the rich and privileged are left with a bitter taste in their mouths when the poor and good-hearted are shown appreciation — even if one is the best friend of the other. In this case, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce, Memento) befriends former second mate Dantes, of whom he has always been jealous, and Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned in Chateau d’If, assumed to be dead. Mondego also has his eye on the beautiful Mercedes.

And so begins the telling of Alexandre Dumas père’s The Count of Monte Cristo, first brought to the big screen in 1914 and remade at least 14 times before this version, with screenplay adapted by Jay Wolport, former TV writer for the series The Lot. Our anticipation from early on in the movie is revenge, as is foreshadowed by the chiseled inscription on Dantes’ jail cell wall, “God Will Give Me Vengeance.” The question as to whether the revenge will be sweet or bitter can be traced back to earlier days. Possibly the finest “revenge tragedy,” Hamlet, tackles the same issues as the remake of this literary classic. Does an obsessive-compulsive behavior toward revenge changed the revenger by blinding them to the possibility of a second chance at the life they originally sought? (Moviegoers will have to see the movie to find that out.)

Director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) gives the movie a classic appeal in its true swashbuckling style. There is no question as to who the protagonist is, and although there is more than one antagonist, it is still apparent who they are as well. This film’s bravado comes from the transformation of the naïve Dantes, who cowers in his jail cell for several years, to the confident, strong, revenge-driven and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo. This chameleonic alteration comes to Dantes from right under his feet. Abbé Faria (Richard Harris, Gladiator), who was in the cell next to Dantes, has spent a number of years digging his escape the wrong way, and has ended up in Dantes’ cell. This elderly gentleman, in exchange for Dantes’ help as a digger, has agreed to teach the whipped and tortured prisoner to read, write, fence, and fight.

Pearce proves to be a “good” bad-guy by making his character completely pretentious, arrogant, and pure evil. It was almost as if Mondego’s face was a mask, covering his true identity as Lucifer.

Caviezel, who literally stumbled into acting after hurting his leg while playing college basketball, makes the change from Dantes to the Count of Monte Cristo easily, and does a good job at being torn between his good and vengeful personalities. He is also very charismatic, as he was in The Thin Red Line, making wordless scenes as captivating as the ones with of dialogue.

(SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you plan to see this movie)

Overall, The Count of Monte Cristo is good fun in a “rah-rah” way, and, by coming in at less than two hours, very succinct. However, the scene in which Dantes escapes from prison has some plot holes, especially after Faria is killed in a cave-in. Dantes drags Faria’s body back to his cell, which reveals that there is a tunnel, and then substitutes himself as the bagged and chained dead body to be thrown off a cliff into the ocean. This makes all the years of work put into the tunnel pointless and tips off the guards to the existence of a tunnel. As well, the plunge by Dantes to the churning waters below is a bit unbelievable. Houdini could have taken notes.

Chris Wood can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but has a fear of rectangles.

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