The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's exceedingly good to see Luis Guzmán looking so vibrantly out of place in Kevin Reynolds' 'The Count of Monte Cristo'.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Michael Wincott, Luis Guzmán, Richard Harris, Dagmara Dominiczyk
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-01-25

It's exceedingly good to see Luis Guzmán looking so vibrantly out of place in Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo. Guzmán plays a pirate named Jacopo who is about to be killed by his fellows, for some infraction of the pirate code. Just at this moment (which takes place in the during the early 19th century, near France), the film's ostensible hero, Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel, looking almost as perplexed as he did in Angel Eyes), comes washing up on the pirate island's shore and gets into his own scuffle with them. Offered the chance to kill Jacopo in a fight or be killed himself, Edmond says okay. And then, so gallant is Edmond that when he has the chance to finish off his opponent, he does not. This is apparently fine with the rest of the pirates, as the film quickly moves on to some other scene, with Jacopo ensconced as Edmond's grateful servant-for-life.

Indeed, Jacopo proves himself a very worthy servant, but more importantly, he hovers around the edges of the rest of The Count of Monte Cristo's preposterous plot, representing an almost mischievous, slightly skewed perspective on the upper class folly going on before him. And if there's anything screenwriter Jay Wolpert's overheated adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic tale, it's a mischievous, slightly skewed perspective. Unfortunately, Guzmán's Jacopo doesn't make his appearance until almost halfway through the movie, which means that there's a lot of set-up to get to the profound insight he offers.

The story of Edmond's journey that pirate island is long and tragic (the film runs two and a half hours). He first appears as a generally happy, if "common," fellow in Marseilles, in love with the perfect upper-class girl, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominiczyk), and believing that all is hunky dory between himself and flamboyant and extremely competitive fop of a best friend, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). What Edmond doesn't know is that Fernand, also upper class and lusting after Mercedes, resents the heck out of him. The friends both work for a shipping company, and after an unexpected detour to Elba, where Edmond stupidly agrees to deliver a letter for the exiled Napoleon, they return home to learn that their employer is promoting Edmond and essentially dissing Fernand. When he sees Edmond celebrating his good fortune with a little open-air sex with Mercedes, you can almost see the steam coming out of Fernand's ears: What to do? What to do!?

Well, he comes up with a doozy of a scheme to ruin poor Edmond bigtime, enlisting the help of an unpleasant local magistrate, Villefort (James Frain), to have Edmond arrested for treason. As the uniforms drag him off, Edmond is naturally horrified: "Why? Why?" he beseeches Fernand, who replies curtly, "It's complicated... because you're the son of a clerk and I'm not supposed to want to be you!" Aha! The complications of such ardor are evidently quite beyond Edmond, whose mopey, bedraggled demeanor only makes you sympathetic with the infinitely more charismatic Fernand's view of things. Within minutes, it seems, Edmond is whisked off to prison on the ominously named Isle d'If, forever, while Villefort tells and Mercedes and her family that he has been executed.

Though he might count himself fortunate that he's not stuck in an Iron Mask, things do look mighty grim for Edmond. He's locked in a dank cell, gets one plate of some foul-looking goop a day, and his psycho warden (Michael Wincott) decides to help him keep track of time by whipping him once a year, on the anniversary of his arrival. But lo, some years into his new life, during which he focuses solely on the vengeance he will wreak on Fernand if he ever escapes, Edmond receives an unexpected visitor to his cell. A fellow prisoner and priest named Faria (Richard Harris, who is the only actor here, other than Guzmán, who visibly understand that this whole business is ridiculous) pops up through the floor: "Forgive my intrusion!" Faria has mistaken the location as the "outside" he's trying to reach by digging (and he has been digging for five years). In exchange for some help with this project (which he calculates they can finish together in eight years), Faria "offers knowledge," that is, he teaches Edmond history, philosophy, economic theory, a s well as how to read and swashbuckle. Bonding and digging montages ensue.

When the old man inevitably dies, he bequeaths unto Edmond a map leading to an unspeakably humungous treasure. And when Edmond inevitably does escape, he hooks up with Jacopo, who helps him carry off this weighty bounty and carry out his revenge. When they get to Marseilles, Edmond pretends to be the Count of Monte Cristo, and incredibly, no one sees through this ruse, though Mercedes has an inkling that he's her long-lost beau when she realizes he is twisting his hair in the nervous way that Edmond used to (this realization is underlined, of course, by the obligatory close-up). Then again, it appears that prison and torture have agreed with Edmond, because everyone else in the film has aged pretty badly by now -- some 15 years after his removal -- with gray hair and prosthetically wrinkled faces, while he remains fit and attractive, with youthful visage and remarkably pearly white teeth.

There's one more bit of bad news for Edmond/the Count: not only has his father hanged himself in distress and shame, but that perfect girl Mercedes has up and married his the dastardly Fernand. Not to mention that she also has a 15-yearold son who appears to be following in Fernand's low-down footsteps. At this point, Edmond and Jacopo initiate the Vengeance Plot, making the "Count" the talk of the town (he arrives in a hot air balloon, accompanied by fireworks, throws lavish parties, etc.), so that he can surreptitiously engineer a major embarrassment and wreck Fernand's life.

Even if you haven't read the novel, or seen 15+ other films that have been made from it, you can easily guess where The Count of Monte Cristo is headed. Aside from its sheer spectacle -- shot by Andrew Dunn, it is a sumptuous, if slow-moving, business -- the primary reason to see it is that it lets my boy Luis wear gold knickers. He makes the most of the opportunity.





'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.


Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.


Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.


100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.


What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.


Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.