Kevin Reynolds’ The Count of Monte Cristo is such a gloriously old-fashioned, swashbuckling adventure movie that it makes one wonder if we’ve been blaming the wrong Kevin for the cinematic atrocities that are Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The combination of Reynolds and the memory of the dreary attempt at putting Dumas pere on the screen last year with The Musketeer certainly sent me into this one with diminished expectations, only to find a very agreeable surprise. It’s a very nearly perfect old-time movie with gorgeous leads, great character actors and all the production gloss you could hope for. Well, it’s basically an old-time movie, since it is peppered with outbursts of anachronistic dialogue (I really doubt that any old-time movie would have someone warn the hero that his adversary is the best knife fighter he’s ever seen, only to be told, “Maybe you should get out more,” nor that the villain would describe the leading lady as “a piece of work”). And there are a couple of “modernistic” effects (both courtesy of an obvious Ridley Scott influence): smoke-filled interiors that make one wonder why the fabulously wealthy can’t afford fireplaces that draw properly, and some Gladiator-styled tricked up action in the final swordfight. Still, the movie’s essentially an Errol Flynn vehicle for Jim Caviziel — and depending on how audiences take to this sort of old-fashioned swashbuckler (it just may be old enough to seem new to younger audiences), it could possibly do for Caviezel’s career what Captain Blood did for Flynn’s nearly 70 years ago. Previously an appealing but limited actor, Caviziel here comes into his own with a role that finally offers him some range, unlike the zomboid parts he was given in Pay It Forward and Angel Eyes. It’s no surprise to see Caviziel handle the film’s early scenes, where he’s the wide-eyed innocent Edmond Dantes just begging for the far-from-innocent world around him to do him dirt. However, nothing he’s done before prepares us for his transformation into the revenge-driven, obsessive Dantes he becomes after he’s wrongly imprisoned on charges of treason. It’s subtly achieved. First, he’s allowed to hold his own against veteran scene-stealer Richard Harris as Faria, a fellow inmate who leads him both to freedom and the great fortune that allows him to pursue his goal of vengeance. By the end of those scenes, Caviziel is center-stage for the bulk of the film, even outshining the suavely camp villainy of Guy Pearce’s Fernand Mondego, the false friend who helped railroad Dantes. Unlike many modern stories, The Count of Monte Cristo is very heavily plotted. Indeed, it’s the twists and turns of Dumas’ plot that give the movie much of its appeal. Some of the events may seem a little too pat, but it’s impossible not to admire the intricacy of the construction: There are no digressions; each piece of the plot is wondrously functional. The movie concerns itself far more with effect than with logic or reality — so much so that when Dantes and his sidekick (Luis Guzman) load far more chests of sunken treasure (never mind that we don’t see how they got it out of the briny anyway) onto their tiny boat than it could possibly hold, we might laugh, but we don’t bother to question it. It’s that kind of a movie. What else can you expect from a film in which the hero makes his appearance as the self-created Count of Monte Cristo via a hot air balloon complete with acrobats on ropes? Or one where the hero can spend years and years in prison and emerge perfectly unchanged ,with a pure Pepsodent smile? (This may be a reward for being the good guy, since Guy Pearce’s dental state declines with his character’s moral descent.) The thing is that The Count of Monte Cristo is such great fun, so superbly acted and so beautiful to look at that these things don’t matter. It’s just a plain entertaining movie — made with craft, skill, a little artistry and an obvious love of the genre.
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