The Count of Monte Cristo

2002

I am both a history and literary purist and am sick of Hollywood fucking up great literary works such as The Man in the Iron Mask, then The Musketeer and now The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas must be swashbuckling in his grave. If I had not read his works in school, I would wonder if he was this loser who writes these pathetic screenplays for Generation Next. Well, I know better (thank you Sister Mary Katherine), and I hope that you will know better as well.

It's not that this movie totally fucked up the novel and changed it's ending to a happy Hollywood one (think Demi Moore's version of The Scarlet Letter), but the characters were either poorly or under developed. The villains were comical and plot holes abounded. Although I am sure that adapting such a complicated literary work such as The Count of Monte Cristo was a daunting undertaking, there already existed a solid plot and blue print for the movie. Alas, like I said, this is Hollywood.

For those of you who haven't read the novel (or Cliff's notes) the story is about a young sailor named Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel) who has just returned from a trip, which included a stop on Elba (where Napoleon has been exiled). In exchange for use of his personal physician to attend to Dantes' dying Captain, the deposed emperor asks that Dantes take back a letter to France. The na´ve mariner agrees to deliver what he believes is a simple correspondence but winds up getting charged with treason. His best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce: Memento) turns out to be behind the plot. Jealous of his life, beautiful fiancÚ Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), and good fortune, he reports Dantes' meeting with Bonaparte to the Chief Magistrate. Edmund is secretly imprisoned and his friends and loved ones are told that he is dead. The bad guys all prevail and Dantes rots away in a remote prison for over a decade. After meeting up with a fellow inmate, who educates him in both book and street smarts, Dantes deduces the conspiracy concocted to frame him and who was all behind it. He becomes bent on two things....escape and revenge against all those who wronged him. Upon his escapes he becomes the Count of Monte Cristo and set out to put his plan of retribution in motion. That is the meat of the story, but the juices are the methods in which he uses to escape and then to destroy his enemies.

This is where the movie falls short. It tries to condense over a decade and a half of plotting and execution of revenge into a little over 2 hours. Not that it couldn't be done, but it lost the true impact and because it doesn't convey the painstaking details the Count of Monte Cristo undertook in the book. The story is about the action of Dantes/Monte Cristo but the movie has him in the background being upstaged by other characters. His passion, rage, and hunger for revenge are insufficiently conveyed. Caviezel's acting is far too muted for this role, at times it seems that he doesn't possess the constitution to carry out his merciless plan of retaliation. The movie has energy and progresses at a brisk pace, but just can't hold a candle to the printed work.

On a positive note, you do get nice views of the scenery including cliffs and coastal vistas, not to mention a fine cast of supporters, among them; Guy Pearce who manages to manufacture an air of despicability. Monte Cristo's trusty sidekick Luis Guzman and mentor Richard Harris provides comic relief. Michael Wincott (and his voice) also makes an appearance as Dantes' sadistic jailer. Despite that the movie has many shortcoming and doesn't even end remotely like the novel, it is not a horrible film. Watch it for entertainment, but not to pass an English Lit test.

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: C

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:

A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40)
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV

The Czarina of Monte Cristo


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