As with a number of films that places the name of the source material’s author in the title, “Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo” is not the most faithful adaptation of the classic adventure novel, certainly not in the story’s home stretch. What ultimately matters, however, is if the film tells an engaging swashbuckler on its own terms, and that’s what director Kevin Reynolds has done with this old-fashioned romp of revenge.
All things considered, Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert follow the general outline of Dumas’ story fairly closely, particularly in the first two thirds. Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel) is a good young sailor who has just about everything: a lovely fiancée named Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) and an upcoming promotion. But being so trusting and all-around nice, Edmond is doomed to lose it all, and indeed he does when his jealous friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), with the help of shady judge Villefort (James Frain), frames him for treason. Our hero is sent to the remote island prison of Chateau d’îf to waste away the rest of his years, but don’t count out the will of a man bent on retribution.
Re-entering French high society as the fabulously wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond indeed gets his, and Reynolds and Wolpert tell the time-tested yarn in a brisk and rousing fashion. Some of the tweaks they make to the story don’t quite work and at times may be questionable, in particular one late zinger of a twist, but by the time most of the deviations occur, the audience is caught up in the action (all the swordplay is nicely staged) and–more importantly–completely sold on the story and characters. Caviezel is an immensely likable and soothing screen presence, and he convincingly captures both sides of Edmond’s persona, the naive innocent and the scorned seeker of vengeance; Pearce is also good playing the hiss-worthy main villain. Literary purists may not be pleased, but as far as mainstream matinee-style entertainment goes, “Count” does a bang-up job of pleasing the crowds.