Two things that almost always capture our attention in movies are watching someone learning something and watching someone getting revenge. Both are in “The Count of Monte Cristo” in abundance, and once again, in this 15th filmed version of the Alexandre Dumas novel, this most resilient of stories has been made into another thoroughly enjoyable movie.
James Caviezel (“Frequency”) plays Edmund Dantes, an honest sailor who has a devoted girlfriend named Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) and a lifelong friend, Fernand (Guy Pearce of “Memento” and “LA Confidential”). When he is promoted to captain and can afford to marry Mercedes, he thinks all of his dreams have come true. But Fernand, overcome with jealousy, betrays Edmund, and Villefort (James Frain), a corrupt magistrate, sentences him to life imprisonment. His friends and family are told that he has been executed.
After years of brutal abuse, Edmund meets another prisoner (Richard Harris), who teaches him to read and swordfight. They plan an escape, but his friend dies, and Edmund escapes alone, with a map showing the location of a treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. He meets up with pirates and ultimately finds the treasure, enabling him to return in a new persona, the Count of Monte Cristo, where he will prove that “revenge is a dish that is best eaten cold.”
The script falters, with some clunky dialogue and a Hollywood-ized ending that Dumas fans will find overly convenient. But the performances (especially Pearce, descending from pettiness to decadence and complete corruption), the swordplay, the splendor, and the story, featuring what is probably literature’s all-time best revenge fantasy are old-time-movie satisfying and lots of fun.
Parents should know that the movie features PG-13-style peril and swordfights and characters are wounded and killed. Edmund is beaten in prison by a sepulchral warden who clearly enjoys torturing the prisoners. Though it is not explicitly shown, we hear screams and we see his extensive scars. A character attempts suicide and there is a suggestion that suicide is an honorable way to respond to discovery of dishonor. There is a non-explicit sexual situation, references to adultery and a child conceived out of wedlock. Omitted from the movie are the book’s depiction of character’s use of opium and a concubine.
Families who see this movie should talk about what made Fernand turn from Edmund’s friend into his enemy. Why did it make Fernand angry that Edmund was “happier with his whistle than (he) was with his pony?” How do we see that Edmund is at first too trusting and then not trusting enough? What does it mean to say, “treason is a matter of dates?” What does it mean to say, “perhaps the thoughts of revenge are serving God’s purpose of keeping you alive?” Or that “neglect becomes our ally?” How did hope change Edmund’s attitude during his beatings? Why does he want to hold on to his hatred? How does Edmund determine the revenge that will be most painful for each of his foes?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Three Musketeers,” also based on a Dumas novel. There are even more versions of that story on film than there are of this one, but the 1948 (starring Gene Kelly) and 1973 (directed by Richard Lester) versions are the best.