The first time I read The Count of Monte Cristo I was five years old, eagerly poring over my copy of the Great Illustrated Classics book my uncle sent to me for Christmas. Though I was too young to understand some of the more complicated parts of the book the story left me completely enthralled from start to finish…which is really saying something since I was always on the move and my mom taught me to read almost literally while running alongside me and this was the first full-length book I read from start to finish in the span of three days and had no desire to put down to run with my dogs. The full version of the book made it into my hands at age seven at which time I read it again, and again at twelve, and the fourth time at age fifteen. Now it’s definitely about time for a re-read and I’m sure I’ll get even more out of it on the fifth read, but before I got that far a preview of the 2002 movie The Count of Monte Cristo caught my attention and I had to put it directly to the top of my sizeable Netflix queue.
For those that don’t know the classic story, The Count of Monte Cristo is the tale of Edmond Dantes (James Caviezel), a clerk’s son in France during Napoleon’s incarceration on the island of Elba. As the film begins Dantes and his closest companion Fernand (Guy Pearce) have just landed on Elba, risking being shot as agents of Napoleon for the hope that there will be a physician there who can help their ailing captain. During their brief stay Napoleon manages to get Dantes alone and hand him a letter which he says is to a friend in France and implores him to deliver it…all seen by Fernand from behind the house’s windows.
Now they’re back in France, the captain has died and Edmond must report to the ship’s owner along with the first mate about their actions on Elba…actions which get second-mate Dantes promoted to captain of the shipping vessel, much to the chagrin of the first mate. Unfortunately Fernand is nursing insatiable jealousy over Dantes’ success in his career and in his impending marriage to his gorgeous fianc� Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) as well as a sense of betrayal at not being told about the letter Dantes carries…and so, like any self-important count’s son Fernand secretly charges Edmond with treason, resulting in his arrest and incarceration in Chateau d’If.
Fifteen years pass and the only thing on his mind is his eventual escape and exacting his revenge on all the people who conspired to destroy his life. He finally gets his chance thanks to an elder inmate (Richard Harris) who dug his way into Dantes’ cell, taught him to read, write and use the sword and finally, armed with a map to a boundless treasure, escape. Thanks to some fortunate meetings he found new friends and a way to follow his map, retrieve his treasure, and return home with great riches to become one of the most affluent characters of society in an effort to enact a plan of revenge worse than death to those who wronged him.
First off this movie stayed fairly close to the original story with some key differences (which I can’t go into in too much detail without spoiling it), perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since I read the book but the differences were not enough to annoy me as so often happens when a movie deviates from the book but it was enough to skew the story to something my other half enjoyed much more than he probably would have liked the original.
James Caviezel did an excellent job as Dantes, being very convincing and only occasionally seemed to forget he was supposed to be French…but then again, accents slipped in various scenes in the movie but weren’t obvious enough to really detract from the overall feel of the movie. Guy Pearce seemed a little over-the-top in a scene or two but that could have very likely been intentional as Pearce’s character perched precariously on the nether side of insanity. All-in-all I’d say Pearce was the perfect choice for the character of Fernand and played the two sides of the character to perfection…that of the devoted best friend and the jealous rival.
Overall, despite the derivations from the original story this was a very well-acted story that stayed true to the feel of the original story if not entirely to the plot. There is, of course, a certain element of sex, violence, and strong language (though not much of that) that makes the film inappropriate to younger viewers but a definite film to watch for an older audience who enjoys adventure and stories of revenge.