THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO—“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”
Like the well-regarded 1934 version, this 2002 take on the venerable Alexandre Dumas classic plays fast and free with the book’s scale in order to keep the epic sprawl in check to fit into 131 minutes of screen time. Elaborately filmed on stunning locales in Malta and Ireland, the $35,000,000 production, written by Jay Wolpert, had some nasty violence and jokes (coming in “on the beat”, as they say in the biz) timed to modern sensibilities, and was directed by Kevin Reynolds to put an accent on action and visual extravagance. Modern era remakes of period piece favorites run the gauntlet from terrific (The Last Of The Mohicans) to lousy (The Four Feathers): this one falls into the ‘pretty good’ zone.
Jim Caviezel (before he went loonus-toonus for Q-sus) makes an okay Edmond Dantès, Richard Harris handles the fellow prisoner/teacher/tunneler ‘Abbé Faria’ with quiet spirit, and Luiz Guzmán adds some dollops of humor as pal ‘Jacopo’. Once again, the villain’s are irredeemably despicable, with Guy Pearce (edging camp) as venomous friend & wife-scammer ‘Mondego’, James Frain as ethics-absent lawyer ‘Villefort’ (he gets a great sendoff) and the sublimely creepy Michael Wincott as lash-happy jailer ‘Dorleac’.
Any version of the story requires a quotient of suspension of disbelief about the hero not being recognized by people that knew him before (even with 14 years of brutality and some facial hair) and this adaptation pushes that even further in that in this telling Edmond and Mondego are friends of many years standing. Yet Mondego is taken in? This calls brandy and a swordfight.
Decent score is by Edward Shearmur. Critics were kind; the box office paid out $$75,395,000, 71% of that in the States, where it tagged 46th place. With Dagmara Domińczyk, Henry Cavill (18, second role), JB Blanc, Albie Woodington, Helen McCrory and Freddie Jones.