Writing about director Kevin Reynold's latest picture is a difficult matter. It's simply a bit hard to know where to begin. While Reynolds has not shown himself to be a director of particularly engaging fare in the past few years ("Waterworld"), there is a 1988 war film from the director called "The Beast" that is a hidden gem, just recently re-released on video.
As for "Count of Monte Cristo", it's hard to see why the filmmakers wanted to make their own version of a film that has been adapted from the novel 17 other times, according to the Internet Movie Database. Based upon the Alexander Dumas novel, the film stars Jim Caviezel as Edmund Dantes. A rather poor, but happy individual, Dantes has a woman he loves and who loves him, despite his less-than-perfect financial state. Early in the film, he is set up by his old friend Mondego (Guy Pearce), a rich and hard-drinking snob who wants Dantes' bride-to-be for himself.
Dantes is set up by his old friend and left to rot in a prison (with a warden played by Michael Wincott in a small role). Years pass and eventually, he meets Faria (Richard Harris), an older man who agrees to teach Dantes reading, writing and of course - ways of swordfighting. Dantes eventually breaks out of the prison and heads back to exact revenge on his old friend and those who helped to put Dantes in prison.
There are several positives and several negatives about the picture. Caviezel is not exactly the best choice to play Dantes. While a fine actor in "The Thin Red Line" and elsewhere, he's really one of the most low-key actors currently working. The film needs to have a Dantes who is visibly enraged at Mondego and the others. While Caviezel has some moments of good acting, he wasn't quite believable. While other factors may have been at play, I think Caviezel was one of the reasons the film doesn't have quite the energy a tale like this should have.
On the other side of the acting scale, there's Guy Pierce, most notable for his outstanding recent performance in "Memento". Where Caviezel is underplaying for many scenes in the picture, Pierce seems to have seen an opportunity to simply have fun with the character, taking it a few steps short of going over-the-top. It's not a particularly well-developed role, but Pierce at least gives it his best effort. The supporting cast also is a highlight, with Luis Guzman and Richard Harris providing some light touches in a movie that could have become a bit heavy.
There's also a bit too much similarity to "Zorro" - many will probably ponder the other film in scenes like the mentor/student scenes between Harris and Cavieziel, which recall the Antonio Banderas/Anthony Hopkins pairing in "Mask Of Zorro". Campbell's also a stronger director of action and "Zorro" in particular has stronger suspense than this picture is able to generate. While the second half of "Cristo" does start to get going as it becomes apparent Dantes is off to see his old "friends", the resulting scenes are somewhat enjoyable, but there's not the kind of tension one would expect. While the end result of the film is certainly obvious, there's not enough feeling that things might not work out on the way from point A to B.
Technical credits are quite good, though. Andrew Dunn (whose work is also seen currently in Robert Altman's "Gosford Park")'s cinematography is appropriately grim at times, but also quite stunning at others, capturing the remarkable locations. Production design, costume design and editing are also good. While the 135-ish minute picture could lose a bit here and there in both halves, I thought the time passed fairly quickly while watching. As for action, the film isn't packed with swordfights, but there are a few good ones and one excellent one.
Overall, "The Count of Monte Cristo" is probably going to play best as a rental on a rainy afternoon when it comes to video and DVD, but those who are fans of the genre might find the film worthy of a matinee ticket.