For those of you who have read the novel by Alexandra Dumas, and anticipate the same excitement and gripping portrayal of the characters brought to life on the movie screen, you will have to continue waiting. Although the movie has its fair share of adventure and excitement, it fails to take advantage of a brilliant plot and storyline, turning out to be less than what was hoped for.
Based on the book, the story takes place in 19th century France, where a sailor named Edmond Dantes (James Caviezel), along with his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), lands in the island of Elba where Napoleon has been exiled, in order to seek medical aid for their captain. In return for his favour, Napoleon entrusts Edmond with a confidential letter to be delivered to an agent in France. Edmond returns to his hometown Marseilles, where he receives a promotion, and becomes captain of the ship, much to the protest of a very jealous first mate, Danglars (Albie Woodington), who wanted the post for himself.
Edmond, of course, is ecstatic, as he can now marry his one-and-only beloved, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). However, Mondego, who also loves Mercedes, is jealous of Edmond's relation with her. He plots against Edmond with the help of Danglars and a local magistrate named Villefort (James Frain), who realizes that the letter Edmond possessed actually carried information from Napoleon to his agent, who turns out to be Villefort's own father. Desperate to protect his name and honour, Villefort agrees to conspire against Edmond and the hero is arrested on the charge of treason, and whisked off to the Chateau D'If, a notorious prison. Meanwhile, Mercedes and the rest of Edmond's close friends and associates are made to believe he has been executed.
For thirteen years, Edmond Dantes waits in prison, losing hope and sanity, until one day, he meets a priest by the name of Faria (Richard Harris), who educates the illiterate Edmond on how to read and write, and also how to fight. Edmond, in return, helps the old priest dig a tunnel to escape from the Chateau. In the meantime, Edmond manages to figure out the entire conspiracy against him, and becomes hell bent on revenge. However, the priest dies at the final stage of the tunnel, leaving Edmond a map for buried treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. Edmond then breaks out of prison, wins over the friendship of a smuggler named Jacopo(Luis Guzmán) who becomes his best friend, and manages to find the treasure, making him one of the richest men in France. He then takes on the identity of a Count, and calls himself The Count of Monte Cristo.
Back in France, Edmond learns that over the past thirteen years, a lot has changed. Mercedes marries Fernando, and Danglars and Villefort are all very successful. This kind of ticks off our hero, and he then sets off on an all-expense-paid revenge trip against the traitors, which about fills up the rest of the story.
Although the movie does have its own excitable and enjoyable moments, the screenplay somehow does not blend well. At some points, the story remains stagnant, whereas in some places it moves a bit too fast. In my opinion, even though the movie boasts of a good cast, none of the actors, except Richard Harris, manage to project the true nature of their characters. I was quite disappointed with James Caviezel's portrayal of Dantes' character - the change from mild-mannered innocence to a man consumed by hate and revenge is hardly noticed, and seems to be done overnight. There is no build up of passion and fury in the character, and Edmond seems to be more like a wimpy protagonist who tries on a major attitude for a change (with little success). There were also scenes where the acting was unnecessarily intense, like when Edmond realizes the conspiracy against him (six years too late, I might add), and you wonder which imbecile could have not figured that out from the start.
The director, Kevin Reynolds of "Waterworld" fame, has had his share of criticism in the past. I do not think he can escape it this time around either. Although he does a good job with most of the direction, I think a little more work would have paid off; the director has focused more on the backdrop and giving life to some completely irrelevant scenes, rather than on the overall acting and story.
That said, there were a lot of plus points in the movie. The location and sets, for one thing, were incredibly stunning and fairly accurate for 19th-century France. I was enthralled by some of the scenery and surroundings, and was especially spellbound in the scene where the Count makes his grand entry in a balloon. The musical score, too, was very appealing and enjoyable, with just the right flavour and intensity in the music.
Overall, I found the movie quite enjoyable and quite fun to watch, neglecting the badly paced storyline and half-hearted acting. It did have its own exciting moments, and it did hold my interest and keep me entertained most of the time, although it did have its occasional "yawns". I would recommend this movie to anyone who is in the mood of a good entertaining flick, but not to someone who expects too much out of a movie.This article was first published on 09 Jun 2002.