Friday, October 28, 2011

The Razor Decision On The Count Of Monte Cristo

The Good: Action, Moments of plot, Costumes
The Bad: Secondary actors, Moral, Predictable reversals, Characters
The Basics: Filled with action and poor acting of uninspired characters, The Count Of Monte Cristo is a predictable story filled with bland reversals.

Every now and then, there comes a film I see that I feel like I am being too critical of and I figure I ought to recommend it based on that. More often than not, I end up with a razor decision review. The Count Of Monte Cristo was a film I saw and left overall indifferent to, unsure of if I was being too critical of it or if it truly was a middle of the road film.

When Edmond Dantes returns to France bearing a letter from the outcast Napoleon, Villefort, the Chief Magistrate, discovers the letter and accuses Edmond of treason. Finding him to be innocent, Villefort asks who the letter was intended for and when told, he decides to have Edmond incarcerated on the island prison of d'If. Trapped and beaten there for many years, Edmond is waiting to die until another inmate, Faria, tunnels into his cell and the two agree to pool their resources. In an unlikely situation, Faria teaches him reading, writing, mathematics, sciences and - of all things - swordplay and Edmond helps him tunnel out of the jail. When the tunnel caves in, killing Faria, Edmond sees his chance to escape. He kills the jailer, swims out of the island and ends up in the company of pirates. Saving the life of Jacopo, he gains a loyal servant who goes with him to get the gold Faria knew about and was imprisoned for. Edmond then buys himself a house and title and seeks revenge on those who did him wrong: Villecourt, someone from the ship Edmond served on and his former best friend who betrayed him to Villecourt, Fernando Mondego.

The problem with The Count Of Monte Cristo is that throughout all of this other stuff, there is a sub plot of Fernando and Mercedes. Mercedes was formerly involved with Edmond and when Edmond is on his revenge plot, he discovers Mercedes and Fernando married, with a son. Attempting to keep up a habit of "surprises" and twists in this film, the true origins of Albert, the son, is not terribly difficult to determine.

And that's the true problem with The Count of Monte Cristo, it tries to be surprising and different, yet it has all of the pretty typical reversals that anyone who watches movies will anticipate. Villacourt's connection to Napoleon is rather easy to understand and when he immediately changes his stance on letting Edmond go, we figure the person the letter was intended for must be close to Villacourt and it is. Similarly, Fernando's relationship with Mercedes is unsurprising; the first time she is introduced, Fernando is flirting pretty heavily with her. Moreover, Fernando turning in Edmond is no surprise given the camera movements and acting. All of the connections made are unsurprising and ultimately unrewarding to watch.

So when the plot falls so dreadfully short of being interesting and challenging, it falls upon the characters to do the work of making the film interesting and viewable. Unfortunately, the characters don't measure up in The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond is fairly bland and unimpressive, Fernando is nothing more than a pretty face and Villefort is pretty much the standard villain. Similarly, Mercedes has nothing special going for her that makes her desirable to the characters.

The only character that is instantly intriguing is Abbe Faria, when he literally pops up into Edmond's cell. He's intriguing with a sense of humor about his situation and clever in a way that makes us believe that he could know something the jailers want. Add to that, he is well-acted by Richard Harris. Harris is convincing as someone who is clever and cunning and someone who has been working hard for an impossible goal for so long. He is the lone superlative acting in the film.

Sadly, Jim Caviezel is not terribly inspiring as Edmond. This is problematic as the film focuses almost exclusively on him. Until he actually becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond is bland, slow and difficult to watch. Caviezel does not play him any different from his traumatized character from Angel Eyes (reviewed here!). When he becomes the Count, Caviezel actually becomes charismatic and easy to watch. Unfortunately, that is quite a while into the film.

Guy Pearce is dull as Fernando, lacking any of the charisma and cleverness he portrayed in L.A. Confidential. He's a pretty face and his acting never rises to the point of being inspired. He shows up, he does some stuff and that's it. He doesn't add anything to Fernando that is not on the page and the character desperately needs that.

Similarly, Villefort is played by James Frain in a way that keeps him as pretty much a faceless, self-serving villain. Good villains have shades of gray, quirks, and are clever. Frain plays Villefort as a half cunning creature who gets Edmond incarcerated for sixteen years, half complete idiot for not recognizing him when they are reintroduced. And that's the type of film this is, none of the actors present anything beyond what is in their lines. There is no intrigue, no clever facial expressions, etc. And Luiz Guzman, who I like in P.T. Anderson's films, is simply Guzman as Jacopo. He adds comic relief by being himself, but he doesn't actually act like someone different as Jacopo.

And there are a lot of moments where the thinking person must sit up and ask, why aren't they doing this? That's what ultimately sinks the film for me. For example, when Faria gets into Edmond's cell, he stands on his shoulders to see the sky. When the pair is figuring out how to smuggle rocks out of their tunnel, they never stumble upon the idea of throwing rocks out the high window. But even without that fairly creative idea, at some point in the process, the tunnel is long and wide enough that the pair need not chip and export rocks, but rather stack rocks at another point in the tunnel.

In the end, the razor decision comes down to not recommending this film. It might be fast paced and have great costumes, but it basically is about how revenge is a fine thing and may be gotten away with if you're rich enough. And that's depressing, no matter how true it may be in our world. The lack of decent actors portraying interesting characters further leaves the viewer disappointed. At least, this one.

For other works with Richard Harris, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Smilla's Sense Of Snow


For other film reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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