Long before Henry Cavill was running around in a red cape saving the world as Superman, he was running around Rome in a cape in search of a little lovin’ in The Count of Monte Cristo. It was the first film I ever saw him in, but I had a feeling he was destined for bigger and better. Then I heard that he was in the running for James Bond, I thought he’d be perfect, but word is he was thought to be too young to play the secret agent. He was also endorsed for the role of Edward Cullen in Twilight, but thankfully he dodged that speeding turd bullet. It’s been a long road for Mr. Cavill, but looks like his career is about finally take off.
Seeking help for their afflicted captain, childhood friends, Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel) and Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), land on the isle of Elba where the British have exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. In exchange for assistance, Bonaparte requests Dantès deliver a letter in Marseilles. For his noble efforts to save the captain, the shipping company’s owner promotes Dantès to captain, now affording him the means to marry his love, Mercèdes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Always envious of Dantès truly blessed life, Fernand exposes Dantès as a traitor to Magistrate Villefort (James Frain) who tosses Dantès into the depths of Chateau d’If. After seven years he meets a fellow inmate, the industrious Abbé Faria (Richard Harris) who’s digging to freedom. Dantès, fueled by vengeance, joins Faria while learning from him the ways of both scholar and swordsman. Once free, Dantès becomes the enigmatic Count of Monte Cristo and sets about enacting his revenge.
The Count of Monte Cristo has quite the intricate plot, but writer Jay Wolpert of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise fame successfully adapts the massive work by Alexandre Dumas. Like most screenwriters, Wolpert omits some elements and takes a number of liberties, but trimming and refinement are a necessary evil when condensing a thousand-plus page novel down to a concise Hollywood feature. The result is a gripping action thriller that’s almost completely plausible.
Director Kevin Reynolds’ succinct storytelling keeps The Count of Monte Cristo clipping along at a brisk pace despite its wealth of details. The film benefits most from all-around impressive performances by its core cast. Always great at playing slimy, selfish characters, James Frain’s Villefort is so two-faced you’ll relish in his downfall. Likewise, Guy Pearce’s Fernand is so despicable; traitor, thief, adulterer, all-around asshole, that you can hardly wait for the Count to kick his fucking teeth in and make him choke on them. Sadly, Dagmara Dominczyk’s role as Mercedes isn’t too prominent, but you can feel the love for Dantès and taste the bile and bitterness towards Fernand. In one of his last roles, Richard Harris excels as the scrawny sagely swordsman and offers some of the more uplifting moments during an otherwise dreary segment. Luis Guzmán portrays Dantès’ companion Jacopo, but unlike many of his roles, this one’s a serious character.
The wide-eyed noble innocence of a young Edmond Dantès; the defeated, forlorn and nearly-deranged prisoner of Chateau d’If; the eager, hate-fueled pupil of Faria; the quiet and contemplative Zatarra; the calculating, cold-hearted Count; these are the many faces of Jim Caviezel throughout Monte Cristo. The most disparate versions of Dantès are the bony and bearded prisoner as he’s given a precursory Passion of the Christ flailing versus the first appearance of the Count as he descends from a firework-lit sky looking like the lavish Lord Pimp of Pimpington. Caviezel makes both work. He is the linchpin of the film, and were the trials he suffers and his emotional journey not genuine, no one would care if his elaborate revenge plot succeeds.
My only major quibble lies with the glossed-over exchange between Dantès, Fernand, Mercedes, and Cavill’s Albert. It’s a momentous plot point that’s deserving of far more time, reaction, and resolution than it’s given. Otherwise, great performances, tight story-telling, and double-crossing that leads to some exciting swordfights make for the kind of gratifying movie you’ll want to watch more than once.