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When Edmond Dantes dares to run
To Elba, where Napoleon
Was exiled, in hopes to save
His ailing captain from the grave,
The captive emperor commands
He take a message to the hands
Of some old friend, and in his debt,
The sailor takes it with regret.
When Dantes lands back in Marseilles,
He’s lauded, and his fiancée
Mercedes welcomes him with joy,
Which jealousy will soon destroy.
His friend Mondego goes too far
With envious first mate Danglars,
To have Dantes arrested for
The treason of the note he bore.
Before the matter comes to court,
A magistrate named Villefort,
Who might have offered him relief,
Entombs him in the Chateau D’If.
Through painful years, he sits and waits,
Endures and loses faith and hates.
When near the ending of his rope,
A fellow prisoner gives hope.
This priest assists him, through despair,
To dig for freedom and prepare.
They learn and burrow gradually,
And when Dantes at last is free,
He plots his vengeance, soon released,
With treasure from the caring priest.
A wealthy count, a different man,
He reaps revenge with righteous plan.
As Edmond nears his final goal,
Perhaps true love can save his soul.

Alexander Dumas is among the most famous of French novelists, but his memory seems often based on mere name recognition. Plenty of people have heard of The Three Musketeers, but far fewer actually know its plot. Such was the case with me and The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic tale of revenge that has resulted in countless adaptations (such as ABC’s current series Revenge), as well as a scrumptious sandwich. Though I had read the book in abridged form as a kid, I had little interest in this 2002 film version when it was released, but I recently sought it out after discovering the unproduced musical version by Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde). I’m glad I did, for it turned out to be a clean, exciting, and undeniably entertaining swashbuckler that even manages to improve on the source material.

The evenly talented cast is composed of actors more recognizable from their other roles than from their names. Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes also played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and his suffering in the Chateau D’If mirrors that film, though Dantes hardly turns the other cheek. Guy Pearce (The King’s Speech, Iron Man 3) is the most famous of the cast and is perfectly odious as his backstabbing “friend” Mondego. Dantes’ faithful love Mercedes is played with romantic earnestness by Dagmara Dominczyk (Marguerite in The Five People You Meet in Heaven), and Richard Harris (Camelot, two Harry Potter films) brings wisdom and unshaken religiosity as Abbe Faria, Dantes’ fellow prisoner and mentor. Also notable are a young Henry Cavill as Mercedes’ son Albert, long before the fame of Man of Steel, and James Frain (known to me as the sleepy college student in Shadowlands) as Villefort, proving that he and Pierce excel at portraying despicable aristocrats.

Despite the large cast, the main point of the tale is very simple: revenge. While The Count of Monte Cristo could be considered the original revenge fantasy, it surpasses imitators like Kill Bill or Darkman by not reveling too much in the morally sticky subject of vengeance but placing it in a religious context. Certainly everyone enjoys watching villains receive their just desserts, but when one becomes an instrument of revenge, obsession and resignation to sin threaten. While there’s an entertaining “gotcha” factor to his enemies’ comeuppance, there are also friends urging Dantes to move past his hatred. It’s a sensitive balance that ultimately sides with the godly faith of Abbe Faria and is not lessened at all by its religiosity. (The only really morally problematic act of vengeance involves the Chateau D’If’s sadistic jailer [Michael Wincott of Hitchcock and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in yet another creepy role], but is more or less understandable considering its timing.)

The production itself sometimes has the look of a BBC television production, but with a much higher budget, seen in the ornate set design and the Count’s spectacular entrance into Parisian society. (Hint: There’s a hot air balloon!) The sword fights are riveting, the dialogue is clever, and the final confrontation between Dantes and Mondego is so much better than in the book, which ends with a mere suicide and a less happy ending for some characters. It may depart from the novel, but I prefer this version.

Having seen this film, I’m even more convinced that it would make a great musical. There have been productions in Germany and South Korea, and at BYU just two months ago (its English-language premiere), but I think it ought to be on Broadway. Listen to these examples: “I Will Be There,” a love duet between Dantes and Mercedes,

and “Hell to Your Doorstep,” a rage-fueled tirade as Dantes plans his revenge.

Doesn’t anyone else think this musical deserves more attention than it’s gotten? Then again, so does this film.

Best line: (Abbe Faria) “Here is your final lesson: Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.’”   (Dantes) “I don’t believe in God.”   (Abbe Faria) “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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