Volume 95, Issue 65

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

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Sam is emotional ride

Count swings action and talent

Orange County doesn't suck?

Count swings action and talent

The Count of Monte Cristo

Starring: Guy Pearce, Jim Caviezel, Richard Harris, Luis Guzman, Dagmara Dominczyk

Directed By: Kevin Reynolds

Three 1/2 stars (out of five)

By Brent Carpenter
Gazette Writer


Gazette File Photo

The Count of Monte Cristo is a thoroughly satisfying swashbuckler that manages to rise above other recent failures of its genre and stands on its own as a quality example of Victorian-era escapism at its best.

Luckily for director Kevin Reynolds, the movie plays more like his adventurous Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and less like his big-budget stinker, Waterworld.

Based on Alexandre Dumas' classic novel, the film is a light combination of action/adventure and historical drama that never takes itself too seriously. At the same time, it explores colourful characters and situations that generally hold the viewers' attention throughout.

As a result, Monte Cristo avoids the fate of many other hollow, pretentious Hollywood costume parties and ensures everyone from the cast to the viewer comes out a winner.

Jim Caviezel stars as Edmund Dantes, an innocent young sailor framed for treason by his own best friend, the entirely evil and self-serving Fernand Mondego (Memento's Guy Pearce).

Shipped off to the infamous island prison of Chateau D'If, Dantes soon finds he has nothing left but his lust for revenge on the man who robbed him of everything.

While incarcerated, Edmund encounters Faria (Richard Harris), a once proud soldier in the service of Napoleon Bonaparte who, like Edmund, was sold out by a friend and unjustly exiled to the hostile island prison.

In a clichéd, but essential, Zorro-esque training scene, the old soldier teaches his new protegé the tricks of the trade, foreshadowing the inevitable confrontation.

Of course, Edmund eventually escapes and – with the aid of the wise and kind-hearted Faria – he transforms into the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo.

Upon his return to civilization, however, Edmund discovers Mondego has also become a Count and has married Dantes' former fiancée, the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk).

The superb cast does an excellent job driving the plot. Admittedly, the story can drag, but never so much that it poses any threat to the final product.

Jim Caviezel (Pay It Forward, The Rock) is surprisingly effective as the leading man and continues to carve himself a nice little filmography. Dantes' transition from quiet sailor to revenge-driven ball of rage to charming Count is an always believable pleasure to watch.

Guy Pearce turns in yet another show-stealing performance as the ferocious Mondego, proving his ability to play either low-key supporting role or leading-man.

The always entertaining Richard Harris plays Faria with a quiet humour mixed with an underlining sadness and proves that, at 71, he is still one of the most talented supporting players working in film today.

Even Dagmara Dominczyk is given a rare opportunity for a female in this genre – the story allows her to play Mercedes as a real character equal to the men. She is a strong female lead who makes her own decisions and stands up for her beliefs in love and family.

Aside from the intriguing story and stellar cast, the film contains beautiful landscape cinematography by Andrew Dunn that only adds to the feel of the adventure.

In an early scene, Napoleon, exiled on the island of Elba, tells Dantes, "In life, we are either kings or pawns." The Count of Monte Cristo is the consistently entertaining story of a pawn who became a king.

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