The Count of Monte Cristo

A naive but faithful man gets the Job treatment, losing his freedom, possessions, family, and love.  Somehow, he becomes bitter over this (I can’t see why), and loses his faith in God (or maybe he loses his faith in God and then becomes bitter, since it’s clear that only nonbelievers are bitter).  Naturally, as an atheist, he has no morals and is consumed by thoughts of revenge.  Unable to take joy in anything, even his bloody deeds, he is brought back to God and sees the folly of his ways.  Amen.

I was very fond of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo when I read it many, many years ago.  I was also a fan of the 1934 film staring Robert Donat.  So, I was quite surprised upon watching this newest version that I was completely wrong about the theme and plot.  I thought it was a light adventure yarn (with some nice, dark moments) about a wronged man seeking revenge, when really it was an overly serious morality play about the dangers of losing God.  Huh.

In this The Count of Monte Cristo, whenever possible, somebody blurts out that God is “in everything.”  Mercedès recites it like she’s gazing at the Virgin Mary, for no reason but to slide another dose of Christianity into the picture.  She prefaces it with:

I don’t know what dark plan lies within you. Nor do I know by what design we were asked to live without each other these 16 years. But God has offered us a new beginning.

So, she (and thus the writer) believes that God is involved to the extent that He is responsible for offering this new beginning.  Where was God when Edmond was getting his life pulled apart?  This is one scumbag of a God.

The old hermit has his “God is everywhere” moment too, but he was a priest, so it seems a reasonable thing for him to babble.  Edmond spends a lot of time saying “God is absent” during the section of the flick when he’s grumpy (because atheists are grumpy folk), but switches back to “God’s all around” when he’s happy.  Watching the film today, I’m not surprised by Edmond’s obsessive preoccupation with God, but it seemed odd when I first saw it in 2002.  That was before Jim Caviezel took the role of the hit-me-baby-one-more-time Jesus in Mel Gibson’s porn experience, The Passion of the Christ.  This was just practice for him.  He got to be tied up, show some skin, and then get whipped.  I’m seeing a pattern here.  Since gay S&M films are the next step, I’m not clear what his career plans are.

During the segments when someone isn’t either praising God or noting his absence, is this Monte Cristo any fun?  Eh.  It’s OK.  It is maudlin from the beginning (and over-acted; what happened to the Guy Pearce from L.A. Confidential?) but it’s not bad for a depressing swashbuckler, at least for about an hour.  Then things turn sour.  Jay Wolpert must have figured he knew better than Alexandre Dumas, so he dumped the end of the novel, replacing it with revenge scenarios that no longer relate to the victims, a mixed up paternity (don’t ask; it’s best not to think about it), and a climactic sword duel instead of a trial.  I am a fan of swashbucklers and love a good swordfight (which this really isn’t.  Hint: if your duelists spend more time running back and forth and searching for their swords in the grass than attacking each other, you need to work on your fight choreography), but I prefer there to be some emotional drama involved.  Or some laughs.  Neither are here.

If Caviezel had given some life to Edmond, or any of the villains had been threatening, then The Count of Monte Cristo might have worked as a hardcore revenge film.  But probably not, since Luis Guzmán plays the Count’s sidekick purely for laughs.  And any movie with this bad a Superman/Clark Kent problem (Dantes hasn’t changed during his years in prison, yet no one recognizes him because he’s grown a goatee; couldn’t this production afford some makeup for Caviezel so that he’d at least look older?) needs to keep things light.

Richard Harris has some nice moments as the tutor.  The scenery is attractive, the ship looks nice, and there are swordfights, even if they aren’t high caliber ones.  There are even a few humorous lines (which are very noticeable in the sea of wretched, melodramatic dialog).  But unfortunately, it is a perfect fit with the other Dumas failures, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Musketeer, forming an unholy trinity.  The only thing that makes it stand out: it has 20% more God.