Betrayed by his childhood friend Fernand (Guy Pearce), sailor Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) is found guilty of trumped-up charges and sent to the island prison of Chateau d'If. Thirteen years later, having learnt the art of fencing from the Abbé Faria (Richard Harris), a fellow inmate who also revealed to him the location of a vast treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo, Edmond realises that the time has come and carries out a daring escape attempt. Taking the treasure for himself, he reappears as the Count of Monte Cristo and becomes the talk of Parisian society; but he soon learns that Fernand has married Mercédès (Dagmara Dominczyk), Edmond's own childhood sweetheart, and starts drawing up his plans for revenge.
Retelling a story that has made it onto the silver screen more than most, this latest adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo
makes yet another swashbuckling attempt to win over a new generation of cinema goers. A dashing James Caviezel takes the role of the Count, who is driven by a desire for revenge after being betrayed by his best friend Fernand (played by a dishevelled Guy Pearce) and landed with 16 years of solitary confinement in Chateau D'If, a damp cavernous prison. Thus the scene is set for a good old-fashioned romp.
The trouble with this "re-imagining" (to borrow a phrase from Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes) is that it's never quite sure whether to take itself seriously or not. Alexandre Dumas's original story is a traditionally melodramatic tale of deceit and double-crossing, with clear-cut bad guys and a moral lesson to be learned at the end. Here, director Kevin Reynolds appears unsure about whether to stick with tradition or bring the story up to date and turn it into a post-modern play on the old Victorian values and style. When the Count and his heavy-breathing loved one are reunited, their kiss is actually framed as a cameo. Both lead actors are also prone to heavy bouts of overacting, garnishing their performances with exaggerated baroque gestures.
Clearly this is a film in which the actors could over-indulge themselves and (almost) get away with it, were it not for the fact that--bar Richard Harris as the "Priest"--none of them seem to have the faintest idea about how to conduct themselves in a period drama. This Count of Monte Cristo will leave the audience a little confused as to whether they should cry along with the story or laugh along with the actors. --Nikki Disney
On the DVD: The Count of Monte Cristo on disc offers no escape from the dry drawl of director Kevin Reynolds, who features in almost every element of the extensive extras package. With a shy studio disclaimer before his commentary, he's got a refreshingly frank attitude to explaining a movie's making. Also included are details of the ambitious swordfight choreography, the origins and adaptation of Dumas's classic book and how the sound was developed as well as a behind-the-scenes feature on location. Quite often the footage feels like a tourism promo for Malta. The 5.1 sound mix is superbly utilised (when Reynolds isn't talking) and the transfer (1.85:1) is as pristine as you'd hope and expect. --Paul Tonks
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