Film

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image