I recently watched The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). I love that movie. I can easily understand someone disagreeing with this. Though it shares the name of a famous novel, it is only loosely based on it. It is not just an abridged version; it has been drastically altered. That being said, judged simply as a movie about revenge rather than an adaptation of a classic, it is really good. It isn’t the best swashbuckler around, but those come around infrequently enough that even a merely pretty good one is reason to celebrate. And I love swashbucklers. Give me a movie with adventure and fencing and fun banter and I’ll watch it all day.
This is a genre that I have always loved. Growing up my brother’s and I had The Princess Bride constantly being played in the VCR. It is still among my all-time favorite movies. We also watched a lot of The Three Musketeers (1993), but I don’t recall that one actually being very good. The late 90’s brought a few more, like The Mask of Zorro and The Man in the Iron Mask. (I realize how many of the films I’ve mentioned are based on Dumas books.) That was about the same time that I went back and watched some of the classics of the genre. Stuff like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood, both starring Errol Flynn.
But the Count of Monte Cristo, it is pretty good. It’s got a really good cast: Jim Caveziel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris are the big three. Plus, it features Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill in an early role. While it has nothing of the complexity of the novel, it is an excellent portrayal of some universal themes: jealousy, love, despair, betrayal and most of all revenge. It does this with enough humor to keep everything enjoyable. Terrible things happen to good people, but they never seem to lose their sense of humor about it.
The standout scene is easily the final showdown in at an old, crumbling building and the field outside of it. After a brief swordfight in the building, everything comes out, all the betrayals and plots are laid bare. Count Mondego, the villain, is completely defeated, but he manages to escape. Finally letting go of his desire for revenge, Dantes lets him go. However, Mondego stops not far into his escape. He looks down the deserted road and countryside and realizes that there is nowhere and no one for him to run. So he returns to force that final confrontation. It is his character throughout the film that he is jealous of Dantes no matter what Dantes has. Even when he takes it, it doesn’t make him happy. He could work to rebuild his life. He still has his title to protect him. But, in his words, he “can’t live in a world where [Dantes] has everything and [he] has nothing.” Even though he knows fighting him won’t solve any of his problems, that is still what he chooses to do.
It is just a really enjoyable movie. Flawed, to be sure, but eminently watchable. It came to mind for me this week because I have a thing for stories with this one’s set up of two friends, two brothers, that either turn on each other or are forced to opposite sides of a conflict. This dynamic is something that has greatly affected my writing over the years. Maybe it’s because I have a ton of brothers, maybe it is the wealth of stories that focus on brothers that I encountered when I was growing up. While I could name a handful of books and video games that deal with this, and in fact I have written something about a couple of video games that do so to go up tomorrow, I was having trouble thinking up many film examples. This is the only one that came immediately to mind, and the only one that was a formative part of my tastes.