The Count Of Monte Cristo (2002)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Jim Outlander Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris
Release date: January 25 (US). Kevin Reynolds! Not heard his name mentioned for awhile, I recall a few of his flicks being suitably entertaining. May not contain Kevin Costner, but definitely spoilers…
Does he still not get on with the Cost-face or what? Actually that’s irrelevant, I’ll just get on with the review-type thing, eh… Having not read the Alexander Dumas novel or watched any of the previous film adaptations (not that I recall anyway), I don’t know how Kevin Reynolds’s The Count Of Monte Cristo compares, favourably or otherwise. I’m not entirely convinced I was watching a film set in the early 1800’s – in that it’s got the Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves sheen applied and like that movie, you’re not supposed to look too deeply into the background detail. This here’s what they call a ‘romp’, although there isn’t all that much romping going on, or buck-swashling for that matter but it does contain a bewildered Luis Guzman so all is forgiven.
It’s a classic revenge tale; (adopt gravelly trailer V.O.) ‘A man wrongly imprisoned… betrayed by the friend he trusted… abandoned by the woman he loves… For 13 years, locked in a dungeon, Edmond Dantes has been consumed by hatred and the will for revenge… Now… his revenge… is at hand…’ I did know the basic story already, except for ‘… the son… he never knew existed…’ Bloody obvious really, Henry Cavill couldn’t possibly look any more like Caviezel if he tried. Also, I didn’t know the circumstances of his imprisonment, that it was a letter from Napoleon (Alex Norton) that kick-starts this whole farrago. Early on, I don’t know if it’s a deliberate visual gag but there’s a shot of Napoleon and Dantes stood together and old Napper barely reaches Jimbo’s shoulder. I started reminiscing about Ian Holm in Time Bandits – the look on his face while he’s watching the midgets on stage singing Me And My Shadow is priceless. No dancing midgets here, alas…
Rewind a minute, I’m not explaining myself properly. What I imply about a ‘Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves sheen’, the sense that I’m not quite in the time… I mean, they’ve got the big sumptuous locations and the costume department has been busy but if I take you back a film, to Brotherhood Of The Wolf, despite the martial arts and whatnot there’s a filmic depth surrounding the characters; it looks lived in, like it’s been there for years whereas Monte Cristo looks created. It’s a visual key, operating on a subconscious level. The other thing that doesn’t help (and Prince Of Thieves also used this) is the presence of modern vernacular – which is like the verbal equivalent of skateboarding in The Lord Of The Rings. There’s nothing specifically wrong with doing it but as a film maker you run the risk of upsetting the visual balance you’ve created. I wish I could give you an example, just a few throwaway lines that certainly wouldn’t be spoken in 1812, or whenever it is. Oh, I’ll tell you one of them; at one point Dantes says to someone, “You should get out more.” Like I say, nothing wrong with it and quite funny considering where he’s been. Just creates an imbalance.
I haven’t got an awful lot to say about Monte Cristo. Tis a good film, but populated by a few ordinary performances. The dungeon scenes are key but it doesn’t feel dank and dirty enough, the stonework looks like what it probably is; foam. It feels false down there. Neither was Dantes’s training by Abbe Faria (Richard Harris) all that convincing. Dantes goes in an idiot and 13 years later comes out a warrior with an intellect to match. Chalk marks on the wall don’t quite sell the passage of time, though the whipping he takes at the hands of warden Dorleac (Michael Wincott) on each anniversary of his prison arrival is a savage touch. The mighty Wincott does exactly what I’ve seen him do already in several other films. Harris seems to be on auto-pilot but I did like his “I’m a priest, not a saint…” line. And of course his character provides the path to a treasure trove that will fund Dantes in his quest for revenge.
Guy Pearce it is who plays Fernand Mondego, best mate of Dantes. My understanding is that Fernand is a schemer, not necessarily a friend – did Reynolds change that for the film? Anyway, Pearce plays him fairly camp… a filthy, snivelling poltroon to boot. And I did want to boot him, repeatedly in the face, so he must’ve been playing it right, particularly his weaselling into the affections of Dantes’s girl, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). There are no layers; he wants the girl. Pearce isn’t going to paint a character, he’s the Panto villain, that’s all there is. He doesn’t get any funny lines so it’s hard to enjoy wall-to-wall obnoxious smarm and nothing else. His every appearance on screen should have been accompanied with a ‘boo’ on the soundtrack. Look at Cassel in Brotherhood, you know he isn’t nice but there’s more going on behind his eyes, he’s clearly the bad guy but you can’t work him out. Still, I do like the scene of Dantes discovering his betrayal and his subsequent pathetic attempt to fight the vastly superior Fernand. Of course, when they duel again, Dantes will be a more worthy opponent. But it’s that moment of uncomprehending “Why?” from Dantes, then the disdainful reply; “Because you’re the son of a clerk; I’m not supposed to want to be you.”
Luis Guzman… Jacopo is a smuggler whose life has been spared by Dantes when the two are forced to duel by pirates. He and Dantes are now inseparable. Guzman does not know where he’s at, it’s hilarious. The wig they stick on him is a screamer. But, y’know what, he’s ace. He’s patently not Jacopo – when you get Guzman, you get Guzman. The body language, the delivery, in this setting is all wrong. He’s simply not of the time period – like Slater in Prince Of Thieves. Sorry for all these comparisons, the sign of a shit writer who can’t explain himself! But Guzman, you wait for his next appearance, you want him on screen even if it does blow any hope of suspending disbelief. Either everybody is miscast in this or it’s deliberate, to bring the story up to date for a modern audience – ‘Let’s not be po-faced, let’s have some fun’. Somehow, we remain po-faced, Kevin and that’s why Guzman is essential. He’s a sight to behold, in stiff uniform and big hair. When he enters a bedroom and starts acting all embarrassed when he sees the near naked Mercedes, it’s quintessential Guzman.
I didn’t warm to Caviezel’s portrayal at all. For me, he improved once the Count’s clothes went on. I thought he struggled in the dungeon scenes. There’s one moment when he puts two and two together at Faria’s prompting but his anger seems restrained. He knocks a few things around in the cell but it seems to be because he can’t verbally emote. He should’ve thrown in a brief shriek-fit. I wasn’t reading ‘inner strength’ from him. “Don’t rob me of my hate, it’s all I have,” he tells Mercedes. What hate where? He and Dagmara make a nice couple – never heard of her before. She’s natural, especially in their scenes together where he has to pretend he definitely is the Count, not Dantes but still can’t resist a little accusation pertaining to the speed with which she married Fernand after Dantes was imprisoned. Isn’t it obvious, Edmond? Still not the sharpest then, despite all of Richard’s hard work. Another thing is her son, Albert. Cripes, Dagmara doesn’t look all that much older than Henry! She’s his mother? Overall, she’s pretty, but pretty weightless.
Reynolds keeps the action ticking over fairly briskly, at least once we’re out of the dungeons but he does also kick the film off rapidly. I’d be interested to hear from someone who can make a comparison with the source material. On the whole Monte Cristo isn’t terrible, sitting through 125 minutes didn’t pose a challenge. I kind of wish it had. Reynolds joins the dots, doesn’t take any risks, no fresh spins. It’s all comfortable and safe.
Me & My Shadow: http://tinyurl.com/7jm2u77
I’ll give it 2 Luis Bouffants out of 5.
ThereWolf, June 2012