The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) / Adventure-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality
Running Time: 131 min.

Cast: Jim Cavaziel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay: Jay Wolpert (based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas)

Review published February 2, 2002

In 19th Century France, some seamen stop on the island of Elba, where the former emperor Napoleon is exiled, in order to aid their ailing captain.  In exchange for the use of his physician, Napoleon enlists one of the seamen, Edmond (Caviezel, Angel Eyes), with a letter to take back to France.  Upon Edmond's return, he is rewarded for his valor with a promotion to replace the captain, which affords him enough money to finally marry his lifelong love, Mercedes.  Shipmate Fernand, who also has his heart set on Mercedes (Dominczyk, Rock Star), stabs Edmond in the back by reporting him to a powerful local official, and Edmond is promptly imprisoned as a traitor to France for his supposed transport of a letter from Napoleon.  Having been told that Edmond died in prison, Mercedes marries Fernand (Pearce, Memento).  Meanwhile, Edmond prays and vows for revenge.

The Count of Monte Cristo is surprisingly entertaining, even though Alexandre Dumas' novel has been done before in a variety of forms and therefore not particularly unpredictable.  While the cast seems curiously devoid of big name stars, they step up to the roles with flair, and along with some capable direction from Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), the film never makes you miss the recognizable names.  This doesn't disguise the fact that a few key roles are miscast, most notably Guy Pearce as a not very menacing or charismatic Fernand, and Luis Guzman (Double Whammy) as a curiously Puerto Rican accented right-hand man to Edmund, Jacopo. 

Despite the casting flaws and lack of freshness, The Count of Monte Cristo benefits from a solid classic story and some lush cinematography.  Although the action and swordplay is far from the best you may have seen, the terrific setup and dramatic unfolding does inspire excitement enough to cover most of the trivial flaws.  For those seeking a well-made adventure, and especially one that lets the story drive the film instead of overblown stunts and overpaid celebrities, The Count of Monte Cristo gets a recommendation as escapist fun.

Qwipster's rating:

2000 Vince Leo