Count of Monte Cristo, The

The Count of Monte Cristo (PG)

HOLLYWOOD rarely makes swashbucklers anymore, but occasionally it tries extremely hard to replicate the great adventure classics of the past. Mostly the modern versions fall flat on the faces, but here at least is one modern interpretation that succeeds rather more than most.

This version of The Count of Monte Cristo – the 19th according to director Kevin (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) Reynolds, looks back with fondness of the type of films that made movie icons of the likes of Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Stewart Granger and James Mason.

That’s not to say it works entirely; it doesn’t. Yet it possesses such an engaging energy and enthusiasm for its subject that one can forgive the occasional lapses. Audiences at last month’s Bradford Film Festival, where the movie received its UK premiere, lapped it up.

The actors, for a start, give it their all, with heroes and villains equally vying for screen time and each character lingering in the memory.

The story, boiled down, concerns naïve seaman Edmond Dantes, who is deceived and deliberately imprisoned so that his best friend can steal his wife-to-be.

Jailed for years in the imposing Chateau D’If, Edmond plots his revenge. When he eventually escapes and transforms himself into the wealthy and enigmatic Count of Monte Cristo he begins a systematic search for the men who wronged him.

Reynolds, who proved he had an eye for entertaining yarns, albeit with his tongue marginally in his cheek, with Robin Hood re-treads similar ground with Alexandre Dumas’s timeless tale.

He is blessed with two up-and-coming stars in Jim Caviezel (Edmond) and Guy Pearce as his nemesis, Mondego. Both fling themselves madly into the fray, while the likes of Richard Harris, Luis Guzman, Michael Wincott and Yorkshireman James Frain offer sterling support as friends and enemies. The love interest is played with touching femininity by Dagmara Dominczyk.

Caviezel undergoes a believable metamorphosis from blue-collar sailor to cod aristocrat; his shock, stunned disbleief, anger, frustration and eventual thirst for revenge is telingly played. Pearce, conversely, never really elevates himself above a portrait of a dilettante.

The primary fault with The Count of Monte Cristo is that, in this particular case, it has been whittled down to accommodate a 130-minute time slot. Having said that the film could do with some judicious trimming and could easily lose 15 or 20 minutes of its running. Nevertheless, it remains the type of subject matter that the TV mini-series does better than cinema.

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