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Count of Monte Cristo

1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Kevin Reynolds

In this highly entertaining, beautifully photographed rekindling of the classic French novel by Alexandre Dumas, director Kevin Reynolds choreographs a fantastic adventure replete with breathtaking scenery, fiery swashbuckling battles, lavish costumes, … see full wiki

Director: Kevin Reynolds
Release Date: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
1 review about Count of Monte Cristo

Sweetest Thing; or, Living Well

  • Sep 9, 2005
Pros: No sappy romantic subplot

Cons: Underdeveloped characters

The Bottom Line: Revenge really is sweet.

Someone once said that living well is the best revenge. Obviously the person who said that wasn’t the Count of Monte Cristo. He has a fortune worth millions, but he’s not about to let his revenge fantasies slide away on the beaches of San Diego so easily. Not that anyone blames him for his unnaturally long and ambitious vengeance streak. After all, his best friend did steal his woman and have him tossed into Chateau D’if, the worst French prison since the Bastille, for the better part of two decades.

At the heart of The Count of Monte Cristo is the fairly simple story of the prince, the pauper, and the hot chick. Recipe for disaster, right? Prince, pauper, and hot chick are friends since childhood, prince grows jealous of pauper over newly minted captainship of a ship and hot chick, prince betrays pauper by accusing him of treason, pauper is thrown in jail for 16 years, prince moves in on hot chick, pauper makes friends with wise old prison sage who teaches him all the important subjects in life, pauper hatches daring escape, pauper makes friends with former pirate, pauper finds hidden treasure cache, pauper becomes prince, pauper/prince tracks down prince, pauper/prince ruins prince’s life, pauper/prince kills prince.

The Count of Monte Cristo has been called a swashbuckler flick, but that’s not true at all despite the fact that pretty much everyone in the movie is packing 19th century French heat (that means carrying swords). There are maybe three duels, maybe four, one of which is staged by one of the main characters. Of those, only the last duel - The Count of Monte Cristo’s finale - is memorable. The others include the aforementioned staging and a match between an expert swordfighter and a man for whom the sword, up until that point, was merely a larger version of a kitchen knife. The idea of The Count of Monte Cristo being an adventure movie is slightly more plausible, but again, if one were to debate The Count of Monte Cristo’s classification as an adventure movie against say, Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, one would be asking to be stomped in analytical debate.

The term thriller would probably be most accurate in describing The Count of Monte Cristo. If you’re anything like me, that term would be a death sentence to any movie unfortunate enough to be slapped with it. After all, the last decade has been decidedly unkind to the sub-genre, considering all the stereotypically moronic cliches that even respected filmmakers have managed to attach to it: The darkness, the fearful protagonist, the supernatural implications, the yelling of the word NOOOOOO!!!, the sudden shock of jittery characters who turn around and see something ominous but otherwise harmless, the three screams for every NOOOOOO!!!, the last-second revelations you figured out 15 minutes into the movie, and the incessant snoring of the audience once they realize they’re watching another half-a**ed attempt to copy Seven. The Count of Monte Cristo is that once-in-awhile thriller which dares to distinguish itself and step out of the ordinary. There are a few points in which it pastes cliches, but otherwise, it’s that unexpectedly engaging thriller that popped up when no one expected it.

Based on a book by the legendary French author Alexandre Dumas (who also wrote The Three Musketeers), The Count of Monte Cristo is the be-all tale of betrayal and revenge for all time, or at least until something better comes along. Edmund Dantes is an uneducated and slightly naive but otherwise good-natured and dashing seafarer who is asked by Napoleon Bonaparte (yeah, that Napoleon Bonaparte) to deliver a letter to a person whom he claims is just a casual friend. Edmund’s best friend Fernand Mondego is a secret witness to the passing of the letter from Napoleon to Edmund. The thought of Edmund being chosen for the task instead of himself is just enough to send Fernand’s long-nursed jealousy of Edmund into overdrive. Edmund got the girl, Edmund got the important task from Napoleon, Fernand got a raging case of alcoholism. Fernand comes from a ridiculously wealthy family, however, and what Fernand wants, Fernand gets. And Fernand wants to be Edmund.

While Fernand doesn’t get to become Edmund, he does get his clutches on Edmund’s girl Mercedes by tipping off a government worker about Napoleon’s letter. Edmund is arrested, charged with treason, and given a life sentence in solitary at lovely Chateau D’if. Edmund is changed by his experience in prison. He becomes consumed with thoughts of revenge, and appears to be going over the edge when his sanity’s savior comes literally digging up through the floor. The old man, who Edmund calls Priest, offers to educate Edmund in exchange for help in digging a tunnel out of the hellhole. Needless to say, Edmund takes him up on the offer.

After his miraculous escape, Edmund meets an outcast smuggler named Jacopo, who assists him in collecting a king’s bounty of treasure on the small island of Monte Cristo. Now calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo, Edmund proceeds to get into the good graces of the French cultural elite, of which Fernand is now a part. And since Edmund considers death to be too good for Fernand, he rips Fernand’s comfy lifestyle right out from under his feet in a complex revenge scheme that exposes Fernand’s inner circle as the snakes and weasels they are.

There are times when The Count of Monte Cristo doesn’t feel like the dirt-simple good-guy-vs.-bad-guy revenge movie that it is. While Fernand spends the parts of the movie in which he appears to be good slightly drunk, Edmund’s newfound education in prison turns him into something of a monster. The man is royally p*ssed, and he wants revenge at ANY cost. Jim Caviezel, who plays Edmund, spends almost the entire post-prison segment of the movie speaking with an evil-sounding intone to his voice. At one point, Edmund forces a confession out of the government worker who had him arrested. Then, when the worker is arrested, Edmund puts a gun in the carriage which the worker tries to use to commit suicide. After the hammer of the gun clicks on an empty chamber, Edmund looks into the carriage and says in the most sinister tone since Jack Nicholson in The Shining ”Did you really think I was going to make it that easy?”

Guy Pearce, however, always seems to have an evil aura surrounding him. Even in the beginning, when he’s supposed to be playing the nice guy, he has that look, and Fernand’s drunkenness only makes him more despicable.

The point is, it’s the characters who make The Count of Monte Cristo as good as it is. It’s not the action or the plot, but the characters. Edmund earns our sympathy during his prison experience, and that’s why we cheer him on in his quest to avenge his stolen life. He starts off very innocent, but he gets hardened by the whole prison ordeal. Unfortunately, aside from the hero and villain, the characters tend to get kind of bland. Mercedes gets free sympathy, because she married Fernand, and we do get to hate all the minor villains who pop up. But it would have made the movie more enjoyable if those characters had their bad sides more developed. As it is, the government agent who arrested Edmund comes off like an innocent victim who just got in the way.

And while I’m on the subject of characters, I’m not of the belief that a goatee is all a man needs for people who recognize him as a familiar face to forget. It’s true that 16 years of aging would do the trick nicely, but at the end of Edmund’s prison stint, no one looks aged at all. Edmund looks like Jim Caviezel with a beard, Fernand looks like Fernand, and there are spots in which Mercedes looks 16 years younger. It’s a little ridiculous if you ask me.

All character flaws aside, though, it’s nice to see that Mercedes wasn’t used for the purpose of including a sappy romantic subplot. It’s there, but just barely. Edmund and Mercedes spend very little time making goggly eyes at each other, so any dude who reads this won’t have to worry about his gal complaining about how Edmund is soooo sweet, and how you two never do anything that romantic anymore.

With all the lame ideas being used in thrillers today, all that’s left to say is that here is proof that nothing beats the classics.


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