Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel) is a young and naive adventurer who really has no future ahead of him, until fate provides him a change of destiny. While exploring the foreign coasts to seek help for his ill stricken captain, he is approached by the exiled Napoleon and is given an assignment. He is instructed to deliver a message to the proper destination, but it gets intercepted by the authorities who find the letter to be nothing more than illegal gossip to Napoleon's friend, and Edmund is sent to prison.
You want to feel sorry for Edmund. He claims not to know what the letter stated, as he is illiterate and cannot read. Before his capture, he was engaged to the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), and was also given a promotion after the courage he displayed on his recent voyage, shedding light and more hope in his life. These fortunate events aren't taken well by his best friend, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) who became jealous, and determined to end Edmund's good fortune. By having Edmund imprisoned on crimes he didn't commit, Fernand can now move in on Mercedes, the woman that he secretly loved for the longest time.
One of the highlights in the Count of Monte Cristo was seeing Edmund in his prison cell, where is to remain until he dies. There is a custom on Chateau, every year you are whipped and tortured on the anniversary of your arrival. The conditions are depressing and brutal. The prisoners are never allowed to leave their cell, and fed only soup to keep them alive. It is understood that they will never be released, regardless of the reason as to why they were sent there.
Edmund gives up on life, slowly deteriorating and growing mad as the years pass by. But one day, the floor beneath him cracks open, and out comes an old man, Faria/Priest (Richard Harris) who has been trying to escape, but miscalculated his digging path. In exchange for Edmund's efforts to help him tunnel a way out, Priest tutors and teaches him the basic knowledge of survival, and much more. Besides learning how to read and write, Edmund also learns physics, the works of scholars, and a form of martial arts that includes how to utilize speed to his advantage.
In their parting scene, Priest gives Edmund a treasure map, and leads him to a fortune that would allow him to become the next Count of Monte Cristo. From this point on, there is nothing that can stop him.
Edmund only has a few goals in his renewed life. Most importantly, to get revenge on all of the men who have led him to his confinement, and to get his fianci back so they can finally wed and be together. With money and his new skills, Edmund becomes the most powerful man and begins his quest of love and revenge.
He meets several new characters on his journey including a new sidekick, Jacopo (Luis Guzman) who has dedicated his life to serving Edmund after being spared in a fight-to-the-death brawl. Together, they throw lavish parties to make Edmund the most popular man in town. Although the people begin to learn of his existence, his is still mysterious as nobody knows where he is from. Even Mercedes doesn't recognize her former fianci who has taken on a new identity in order to learn more about his enemies, and to eventually finish them off in the most entertaining methods.
The scenery is bright and well detailed providing lively atmospheres for the various duels and swordfights that occur throughout the movie. The acting on all fronts are excellent, as I am beginning to follow the underrated but highly talented Guy Pearce, who was also spectacular in Rules of Engagement and Memento.
Plot twists and new developments keep the movie alive and fresh, and director Kevin Reynolds successfully showed the balance between revenge and forgiveness, as Edmund must decide how to approach Mercedes, who has been with Fernand Mondego since Edmund was captured and presumed dead.
The ending was satisfying, although not nearly as exciting as some sword fighting buffs may expect. While I found the last battle to be satisfying and convincing, it doesn't match the intensity of the final duel in Gladiator. The Count of Monte Cristo isn't about combat and action, as much as it is about a tale of man who must take his life back after it was abruptly stolen from him. Even though taking revenge on his once trusted friends isn’t a cheerful experience, Edmund makes his quest fun, using his acquired riches to his advantage.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a rewarding film. You will cheer for Edmund to get back up after being knocked down so hard by his opponents. You'll enjoy all the characters, and have fun watching a young and worthless sailor become the Count of Monte Cristo.