Opulently produced and superbly acted, “The Count of Monte Cristo” is the latest of about a dozen cinematic incarnations of the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. Jim Caviezel
, perhaps the industry's most underused leading man, portrays Edmund Dantes, a crewman on a merchant ship who is rapidly rising through the ranks and on track to become captain his own vessel. His best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) is the spoiled son of a wealthy nobleman and dangerously jealous of Dantes' success and his fiancée, the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). Exclaiming, “I'm not supposed to want to be you,” Mondego betrays Dantes, who is then arrested on false charges of treason and banished to an island prison. Proclaimed dead, Dantes spends the next 13 years plotting his revenge, educating himself and learning swordplay from a fellow prisoner, who also gives him a map to an inestimable buried treasure. Gradually, with his newfound wealth, he works his way back into French society as the Count of Monte Cristo in order to wreak vengeance on his enemies.
Caviezel embodies the transformation of his character completely, from an optimistic if naïve working-class sailor running to his friend in desperation only to find that he is the source of his troubles, to a supremely confident and shrewd aristocrat as he carries out his vindictive plan. Pearce is a worthy adversary and co-star, though his character spirals from interesting complexity to stock villain.
The film's production values, meanwhile, are luxurious, from the grand, ornate and richly detailed Marseilles to the isolated political prison, an immense block of stone, its dank, dripping interiors symbolizing the fate of the men held within.
Starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris and Dagmara Dominczyk. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Written by Jay Wolpert. Produced by Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Johnthan Glickman. A Buena Vista release. Period drama. Rated PG-13 for adventure violence/swordplay and some sensuality. Running time: 131 min