The Count of Monte Cristo (PG)

Review by Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD has failed to do justice to the work of Alexandre Dumas in recent years, given the shoddy re-workings of classics such as The Three Musketeers and The Man In The Iron Mask.

But salvation is at hand with Tinseltown's latest, The Count of Monte Cristo, a stylish, intelligent and very well put together movie, directed by Kevin Reynolds of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves fame.

For those who are unfamiliar with the tale, this is the classic story of an innocent man wrongly, but deliberately, imprisoned and his subsequent plan for revenge against those who betrayed him.

Jim Caviezel is the dashing young sailor Edmond Dantes, whose promising career and upcoming marriage to the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) are ruined by his best friend Fernand (Guy Pearce), who wants Mercedes for himself.

Enlisting the help of Richard Harris's wily fellow inmate, Dantes educates himself and then escapes from the island fortress holding him, before transforming into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo and forming a plan to ruin those who enslaved him.

Caviezel is becoming something of an expert at playing morally-conflicted heroes - witness his turns in both The Thin Red Line and Frequency - and the promising work he did in both of those movies is fully realised here.

The actor brings an emotional depth not usually associated with swashbucklers of this nature, helping to turn Reynolds' movie into the intriguing couple of hours that it is.

And while the action is well-staged, it never threatens to over-run proceedings, so anyone anticipating a return to the type of effort that was Prince of Thieves or even the Dumas translations of Richard Chamberlain's day may find themselves clock-watching.

Producer Gary Barber admits that this Count is 'different from previous versions' in that it follows some of the events of the book more closely and the 'characters have more depth'.

As such, his leads have plenty to work with and aside from Caviezel, Pearce makes for a terrifically hiss-worthy villain (complete with a nice line in sarcastic putdown), Harris appears to be having a blast as Dantes' friend and mentor and the likes of Luis Guzman (as Jacopo) and Michael Wincott add some much needed humour. Only Dominczyk is really found wanting from the cast.

The Count of Monte Cristo harks back to a time when story played a bigger part than action or special effects and, as a result, is all the more enjoyable for it. Dumas, I'm sure, would be fairly impressed with the attention to detail.