Regardless of its status as a literary classic, readers have sometimes regarded Alexander Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” as tedious and slow. But the new screen adaptation by director Kevin Reynolds manages to keep a fast pace and avoid tedium while remaining true to the classic story.
The film tells the tale of Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel), an innocent man betrayed by his closest friend Fernand (Guy Pearce) and wrongfully banished to an infamous island prison. While in prison he befriends a fellow inmate (Richard Harris), who helps him plan his escape and subsequent revenge on the men who betrayed him.
Reynolds manages to tell the classic story in an exciting and fast-paced manner, focusing on the progression of Dantes’ character and his lust for revenge. Dantes begins the story as a free spirit in love with a beautiful woman named Mercedes (Dagmara Dominiczyk), and turns into a cold-hearted man focused solely on his plans for murdering Fernand.
Jim Caviezel is adequate in the leading role. He expresses the range of emotions that Dantes feels as he has his life ripped away from him and as he gets the chance to get it back.
Guy Pearce, however, steals the film’s spotlight. Pearce is deviously charming as the evil Fernand, whose lust for his friend’s lover and his life drives him to theft, betrayal and murder. Pearce manages to captivate the audience and make them reveal in his brooding and maniacal behavior.
Richard Harris also shines as Dantes’ loyal friend in prison, who helps Dantes learn the art of sword fighting, solve the mystery of his betrayer and ultimately escape from the prison. He is a quirky, old inmate who becomes Dantes’ impetus for remaining steadfast in his goal.
Beautiful seaside locations and Italian city sets make the film visually appealing. The movie is packed with sweeping vista shots of European cities, vast oceans, beaches and towering cliffs, filmed on location in Ireland and Malta.
The most exciting and visually dazzling sequences of the film occur during the tense sword fights between Dantes and Fernand. While the majority of the film consists of steady shots, the battles employ hand-held cameras and rapid editing alongside impressively choreographed sword fighting. These sequences, obviously exaggerated from those in the novel, fill the screen with enough action to satisfy any action-movie fan.
Another element of The Count of Monte Cristo that adds to its appeal is its use of lighting. Virtually all of the film takes place at night, with little natural or artificial light. The characters are often either partially covered in shadows or lurking in total darkness. This use of shadows and low lighting parallels the brooding, dark nature of the story.
The film is not without its flaws. Given the film’s extremely long time frame, the movie seems to lag in certain sections while skipping over sections of the adventure, sometimes disrupting the credibility of the action. After Dantes escapes from prison he joins a group of pirates. The film then skips ahead to the pirate captain expressing deep friendship to Dantes as he departs to exact revenge. These same pirates prove invaluable to Dantes later in the film, but the narrative is unbelievable given that the audience never sees their relationship grow.
Another relationship that fails to work in the film is between Dantes and his lover, Mercedes. We see them early on as young lovers, but when Dantes returns he appears indifferent to Mercedes, who has married his enemy Fernand. The romantic element fails to flourish and takes a back seat to the action. Action-adventure fans will consider this to be a blessing rather than a flaw.
The Count of Monte Cristo is an entertaining rendition of a classic novel. It is fueled by great performances from stars such as Pearce and Harris, fantastic visuals, intense sword fighting sequences and an intriguing story of betrayal and revenge.
The Count of Monte Cristo is in theaters Friday