Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Stars: Guy Pearce, Jim Caviziel, Richard Harris, Dagmara Dominiczky

While Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale Of The Three Musketeers has been a favourite of Hollywood with many cinematic incarnations over the years, there have also been several film adaptations of The Count Of Monte Cristo, a stirring nineteenth century tale of betrayal and revenge. The two best known screen versions include the 1934 swash buckler, with Robert Donat in the title role, and a 1974 made-for-television movie released theatrically, with Richard Chamberlain playing the eponymous count.

This latest version from director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Waterworld, etc) is a lavish, big budget production that certainly looks spectacular and delivers plenty of swash buckling action and intrigue. While the story remains reasonably faithful to the original novel, director Reynolds suffuses the material with some contemporary touches, which may give this timeless tale some extra appeal for younger audiences.

Jim Caviezel (from The Thin Red Line, Frequency, and the upcoming thriller High Crimes, etc) steps into the role of Edmund Dantes, the naive and illiterate sailor who seemingly finds success in life, much to the chagrin of his friend Fernand (a gaunt Guy Pearce), a wealthy, arrogant and slightly bitter noble. During a voyage the pair are briefly forced to spend a night on Elba, home to the exiled Napoleon. The disgraced emperor asks Dantes to deliver an innocent letter to a friend in Marseilles. But on returning home, Dantes finds himself betrayed to the authorities by Fernand, and he is arrested and charged with treason.

Dantes is sent to Chateau Dif, a remote prison island, where he spends the next thirteen years enduring isolation and brutal physical punishment. On the island he also meets Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), a defrocked former priest who schools Dante and also reveals to him the location of a fabulous treasure buried on the island of Monte Cristo. After a daring escape, Dante finds the treasure, and then uses his enormous wealth to finance an elaborate revenge on his betrayers. On returning home to Marseilles, Dante also learns that Fernand has married his former fiancée Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczky), which further fuels his desire for vengeance.

The Count Of Monte Cristo looks spectacular, thanks to some impressive period production design, costumes, authentic looking locations (filmed in both Ireland and Malta), and gorgeous cinematography from Andrew Dunn. Reynolds tries hard to inject the material with enthusiasm and flair, and the key fight sequences are certainly stirring stuff. He also imbues the familiar story with energy and sly doses of humour. But the film is slightly overlong, and the pace flags a bit in the middle.

However, the two stars rise to the occasion, and their performances lift the film when required. Caviezel always has a soulful and wounded presence, but he brings an intensity to his performance as the betrayed. Pearce, who reputedly turned down the lead role to play against type, delivers a wonderfully hammy performance, full of menacing sneers and camp grimaces, as the thoroughly nasty Fernand and seems to be enjoying himself far more here than in the recent, disappointing remake of The Time Machine.



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