The Count of Monte Cristo
review by Gregory Avery, 25 January 2002

What's the ripest thing about this movie?

Well, there's the part where James Frain, as a magistrate, holds up a sealed letter and asks its bearer, "Have you read this?" Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel), solemnly intoning that his all-consuming desire is "revenge," is told by his hearty Corsican friend (Luis Guzman), "Okay. Revenge. Who?" Dagmara Dominczyk, as Dantes' girlfriend, says, referring to a Higher Being, "He is in everything. Even in a kiss." Dantes walks up to some guests, at a party hosted by someone else, and says, "So glad you could come and see me!..." One character surprises another with information about a murder which the first character could not possibly have been privy to. Some cargo is stolen from a ship, but we don't know who it belonged to in the first place (this is an essential part to the story). It is then hidden in a secret hiding place that everybody seems to know about.

But, no -- The topper has to be the part, early in the film, where Dantes and Mercedes (Dominczyk's character) are sitting together by a campfire on the beach. After some romantic tete-a-tete ("Make love to me." "Will you ever give up?"), she says she has to have a serious commitment from him -- men act like little boys, demanding, only to discard, playthings like ponies and whistles, and, Mercedes declares, "I will not be your whistle!" Alas! Dantes is but the meager "son of a clerk," and can't give her something fancy like an engagement ring. So, Mercedes promptly rips some thread from the hem of her skirt and, there! The thread becomes her ring, and, moreover, she says, it "will never leave my finger."

Now, while it is known that, prior to the advent of indoor plumbing and modern hygiene, bathing was not a daily occurrence among many people in the early 19th century, either Mercedes must not do a whole lot with her hands or that would have to be some mighty sturdy thread. Years pass, many of them, during which Mercedes obtains, then discards, a husband (no big deal -- he never "pleased" her, anyway, she says euphemistically), and she and Dantes are reunited, during which she holds up her hand to show -- yes! -- that same thread is still around the very same finger where she put it. Good to her word, she reasserts it "never left my finger."

These lighthearted moments come in handy, because otherwise this film -- which seems not so much adapted as yanked from the novel by Alexandre Dumas père -- is a serious-minded affair, heavy on atmospherics and not all that fun. The story -- in which young Dantes is wrongfully accused of a crime, imprisoned, escapes, and then sets out to settle some scores with the aid of a fabulous treasure at his disposal -- is reduced to a welter of confusion, illogical, contradictory, and strewn with dangling plotlines, holes, and plausibility gaps (particularly the method shown in the film of Dantes' escape, which he would have had to have been psychic to engineer). Some films suffer from having not enough plot; this one has more than it knows what to do with.

The film lays out some huge period recreation scenes -- an outdoor party, a landing by hot-air balloon, a formal dinner, a festival with masqued revelers, and a decent into the Roman catacombs -- only to dump out of them before we've even had much of a time to get a good look at them. And there doesn't seem to be much of a point in putting on a swashbuckler if the sword fights are clumsy. Perhaps aiming for verisimilitude, the filmmakers have the combatants lurch and flail about, and at least one fight ends up degenerating into a brawl. Maybe they felt that the fights Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone took part in during earlier films were too graceful, but that was one of the reasons people were drawn to them in the first place.

The other reason was that actors such as Flynn and Rathbone gave their heroes and villains the proper dimension. Jim Caviezel, squinting his eyes like a lizard who's about to fall asleep, doesn't give young Dantes the right ingenuous quality that would explain why he would feel profoundly betrayed after he gets into the fix he's in (Caviezel seems more like a nitwit, in fact, than ingenuous). After spending years in jail, subsisting on nothing but slops, he grows a fetchingly long beard and hair, but mysteriously never seems to lose any weight or body tone. And when he emerges, ostensibly a "changed man," Caviezel doesn't really look or sound any different than he did before he went in.

His outrage over the way his friend, Fernand, betrays him doesn't hold any weight because the film depicts Fernand as being deceitful and untrustworthy right from the start. Guy Pearce, who plays Fernand, gives a smirking, lazy, astonishingly awful performance -- his upper lip seems to be constantly curled -- especially in light of his recent work in "Memento." Here, he doesn't seem to mind or care that he's pickling himself in overacting.

Fortunately, Richard Harris turns up in the middle of the picture, literally poking his head into Dantes' gloomy jail cell. Harris plays the imprisoned Abbé who befriends Dantes, teaches him to read and write, among other things ("other things" including a basic overview of Issac Newton's theories), and, in return, Dantes helps him in his attempt to dig a way out of their fortress-like prison and to freedom. Exactly how their captors never notice this considerably prodigious undertaking, where they get their digging tools from, or how they figure in what direction they should dig, is never really explained (we do find out what they do with the dirt they excavate), but no matter. Harris' dialogue delivery, with its gentle, raspy sound, and graceful gestures are recompense enough to one: at least somebody is giving a good performance in this picture.

Directed by:
Kevin Reynolds

Jim Caviezel
Guy Pearce
Dagmara Dominczyk
James Frain
Luis Guzman
Richard Harris

Written by:
Jay Wolpert

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some matrial may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.





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