The Count of Monte Cristo
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Written by Jay Wolpert
Starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris

 

The Count of Monte Cristo

If ever there was a story begging to be made into a film, Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" is at the door with bowl in hand. In fact it has a major film history, being made and remade more than twenty times since the first known version back in 1908. It's a delicious adventure, with the young and na´ve hero betrayed by his jealous best friend, thrown unjustly into prison, and ultimately escaping to take on a disguise as the Count, in order to wreak revenge and find once again his lost love. What's not to like?

The latest is by director Kevin Reynolds (Kevin Costner's former lackey, with "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "Waterworld" under his belt). Though he still can't direct actors, he does show a good talent for pictorial settings and gives the film an appropriate period feel. With the coast of Ireland standing in for the Mediterranean and Malta standing in for Marseilles in the early 19th century there are no jarring anachronisms in location, but unfortunately there are enough other problems to go around. One is the choice of Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes, the hero. Caviezel has the bones but neither the voice nor the presence to play a romantic hero. He is so interior, so introverted in his approach to his work that we worry for his health. Even the classic goatee and velour cloak he wears as the Count cannot hide the frightened child within.

And for the villain we have an even more disastrous choice: Guy Pearce. Pearce reads his lines through clenched teeth and a tight jaw, racing through the words as though on his way to his next acting gig. This is a role filled with the kind of villainy Basil Rathbone did so well, with verve and flair and a delicious appreciation of the evil he so obviously enjoyed. With Pearce the words come out flat and without even a hint of emotion or affect. In this context I might as well mention the character of Jacopo, a thief and murderer whom Edmond redeems and who becomes his acolyte, his Sancho Panza. He is played by Luis Guzman, who by his accent came to Marseilles and this film by way of Jersey City.

Nevertheless the story is so good that it almost carries us over Reynolds' lumpen approach. Richard Harris as Edmond's Gandalf - I mean his Obi Wan Kenobi - I mean his fellow prisoner at the fortress of the Isle d'If for thirteen years - brings his expertise as an actor to the role of an aged warrior-priest. With his usual security on screen and his ability to read his lines with conviction, seemingly alone in this film, he convinces us of the truth and value of everything he says. He teaches Edmond to read and write, to understand philosophy and, most necessary of all for the plot, to be a great swordsman. With that he dies, and Edmond escapes to begin his quest for revenge.

A lot happens here in the film's 110 minutes, and much of it is good fun, but it leaves us with nothing more than the desperate wish for a better version. All casting suggestions are welcome.