Review: ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (2002) | Pop Culture Crossing

            Kevin Reynolds’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a 2002 motion picture adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel of the same name. The film features impressive performances from the entire cast and a great, complex story that will hold the audience’s attention. Overall, the movie is very cohesive and strong in presentation; its strengths are many and weaknesses few.

            The plot focuses on Edmond Dantes, a French sailor who is betrayed by his affluent friend, Fernand Mondego. As a result, he is sent to Château d'If, an island prison where he is to fulfill his sentence and be forgotten by the civilized world. Adding to the duplicity is the fact that Mondego weds Dantes’ fiancé, Mercedès Iguanada, shortly after the imprisonment. Thirteen years later, Dantes is able to escape and finds a hidden treasure. The newly acquired wealth then plays a pivotal role in his plan to seek vengeance.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            The Count of Monte Cristo has good pacing. The story develops well and is nicely handled. While in prison, characters mention how many years have passed, adding useful context and framing for audiences. The scenes surrounding the betrayal and prison are depressing, but audiences can take solace in the fact that these parts are limited and do not span the entire film. Once Dantes meets Abbé Faria, a prisoner who becomes a mentor and teacher, the story becomes riveting to watch.

            Key themes include: revenge, envy, betrayal, corruption, and redemption. The details surrounding Dantes’ betrayal and captivity and Mondego’s treachery are very oppressive and abhorrent; they are sure to pain viewers. Fortunately, this is balanced as the film develops into an entertaining and rewarding cinematic experience.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            Another crucial motif is mentioned in the movie itself. In one of his lessons, Faria, cites the physics principle of every action having a reaction. From that point on, viewers can see how every action leading up to that moment and how everything that happens after this revelation are shaped by the scientific law. This leitmotif ties into the intentionality of the story in that minor or seemingly innocuous events are important and will have future resolution.

            Fans of classic Disney pictures will likely enjoy this movie. The Count of Monte Cristo looks and feels like PG-13-rated Disney movie. In fact, it is a Disney movie due to its Buena Vista Pictures distribution. Similarities to the Disney formula are evidenced by characters thinking they are going to live happily ever after, only to have everything torn from them, and “princess” and “prince charming” parallels.[1] Some of the story beats and characters are expressly reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. The characters’ innocence, actions, reactions, and music play into the Disney style.

            Additionally, Château d'If’s warden says he understands Dantes claiming he is innocent, because his is a prison where the state sends the people of whom it is “ashamed.” However, given the government’s corruption, is the state truly ashamed of these individuals or are they more embarrassed of its own crimes and corruption and the risk that allowing them to go free would result in the government’s nefarious behavior being exposed and becoming public? This is an interesting notion. Having a character mention it while seeing the trouble Dantes endures due to the corruption will get viewers thinking about the broader concepts informing the story.

            Superb acting is on display throughout The Count of Monte Cristo. The arc of Jim Caviezel’s Edmond Dantes is remarkable. His initial wide-eyed demeanor is vastly different from the mature, tactful character he becomes. Given Caviezel’s strong performance, joining Dantes on his journey is a great treat for audiences.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            Guy Pearce is well cast and expertly conveys Fernand Mondego’s envy. His élitist attitude and social ranking-centered mindset fuels his animus toward Dantes. The way in which Pearce illustrates Mondego’s tyrannical antagonism is impressive. His performance, as well as the counterbalance posed by Caviezel, will remain on viewers’ minds after the credits roll.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            Pearce’s Mondego is complemented by James Frain’s J. F. Villefort, the corrupt government official who decided to imprison Dantes after learning of his innocence. Though the two do not always see eye-to-eye, Mondego and Villefort heighten the film’s tension and antagonism. 

            Dagmara Dominczyk’s Mercedès Iguanada is well acted. Viewers can see how Mercedès has been “imprisoned” by her marriage to Mondego. Dominczyk and Caviezel have strong on-screen chemistry that will have audiences rooting for them to rid themselves of Mondego and live the life of which they were robbed.

            Richard Harris’ Abbé Faria, Luis Guzmán’s Jacopo, and J. B. Blanc’s Luigi Vampa are very effective supporting characters. All three are great to watch and add positivity and support throughout Dantes’ ordeal. Faria is the type of teacher everyone wants and should have. Similarly, Jacopo and Vampa display great friendship and loyalty to Dantes. Though they do not have a lot of screen time, these three make strong impressions.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            The film’s cinematography and production design are strong. High angle shots, particularly in the latter parts, are expertly used to accentuate characters’ wealth by capturing high, ornate ceilings. Some green and violet color hues are used in interesting ways, though some of the time they seem like they may be out of place.

            Being a period film, the set design and wardrobe are marvelous. They both capture the style and architecture of the time. Seeing Dantes’ clothing evolve from prison rags to luxury textiles is striking.

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Image Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

            Kevin Reynolds does an incredible job as director. The way in which he is able to convey the story in such a compelling way – and without having a three hour movie – is notable. The effectual performances he draws from the entire cast and his management of the aesthetic of mid-nineteenth century France and the Mediterranean speaks to his strong directing acumen. Surprisingly, the movie did not receive any awards or nominations. Looking back, it seems as though it would have been a formidable awards competitor. Nevertheless, Reynolds’ final product is a film that should not be missed.

            In conclusion, The Count of Monte Cristo is a gripping revenge film. The clear-cut character development and inspired performances, direction, and presentation create a very tight movie. Moreover, it really does not have any serious critiques. Whether you are looking for a revenge movie, are a fan of the classic Disney style, or you simply want to be captivated by a strong and distinguished piece of cinema, this movie is an excellent choice for your next screening.

Back Matter:[2]

Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures

Production: Touchstone Pictures; Spyglass Entertainment; World 2000 Entertainment; Epsilon Motion Pictures; Count of Monte Cristo Ltd.

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Producer: Gary Barber; Roger Birnbaum; Jonathan Glickman

Screenwriter: Jay Wolpert (screenplay); Alexandre Dumas, père (book)

Director of Photography: Andrew Dunn

Editor: Stephen Semel; Chris Womack

Art Direction: Conor Devlin; Terry Pritchard

Production Design: Mark Geraghty

Costume Design: Tom Rand

Music: Edward Shearmur

Budget: ca. $35,000,000

Release Date: December 25, 2002 (USA, Wide Release)

Cinematographic Process: Spherical

Laboratory: DeLuxe

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Copyright Holder: N/A

Cast: Jim Caviezel; Guy Pearce; Richard Harris; James Frain; Dagmara Dominczyk; Michael Wincott; Luis Guzmán; Christopher Adamson; J. B. Blanc; Alex Norton; Henry Cavill

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Rating: PG-13; Descriptors: Adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality.[3]

Running Time: 2 hours and 11 minutes (131 mins.); 2 hours and 14 minutes (134 mins.), Spain

Bibliography: 

[1] Note that the original story of Beauty and the Beast was written in 1740 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Dumas’ story was penned one hundred four years later. Getting into the semantics of whether or not Dumas was influenced by the tale or if the filmmakers were directly inspired by de Beaumont or the animated Disney adaptation falls outside the scope of this review.

[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245844/?ref_=ttco_co_tt.

[3] http://www.filmratings.com/Search?filmTitle=The+Count+of+Monte+Cristo&x=0&y=0. Note the date provided is 2001. This appears to be a mistake in the listing.