The Count of Monte Cristo (1998) Movie Review
While Kevin Reynolds' (Waterworld) recent adaptation was warmly received by both audiences and critics (myself included), his was a truncated version. It made up for graceless transitions with gorgeously shot action sequences and American melodrama. Reynolds focused on the story's conflict but lost all the subtlety of the inner narrative, the character growth, and the true turning of the worm. While not as breathtakingly visual, Josée Dayan's earlier television production is superior to Reynolds' film because it assumes that the audience is familiar not just with the story but the novel.
Edmond Dantes (in Dayan's film played by Gerard Depardieu) is betrayed and sent off to Chateau d'If, a foreboding island rock, to rot away the rest of his days. There he meets Abbe Faria, a fellow prisoner who seems quite mad. Faria tells Dantes that there is a hidden treasure on the island, wealth beyond imagination. After nearly 20 years in captivity, Dantes escapes, claims the treasure, and returns to Paris a wealthy but mysterious nobleman. And it is here that his pitiless plans for revenge are set into action.
Gerard Depardieu is a legend in French culture. And he embodies the classic Descartian dilemma, he's robust and strangely ape-like, as physical an actor as Brando, but at the same time seemingly imbibed with worldly knowledge, perfect manners and exquisite taste. Less an actor than an icon, Depardieu is not a celebrity like the ones we fashion in Hollywood but a creature more akin to the traditional (and increasingly rare) Renaissance man. He isn't the star of his films so much as their spine. And yet, as Dantes (and numerous other shadow characters), Depardieu seems a bit weary. He's just not that believable as revenge-obsessed. Likewise, Dantes' servant, played by Sergio Rubini, is oddly fantastical.
The other actors in this teleplay are better. Ornella Muti is fascinating to watch and Christopher Thompson as Maximilien Morel is brilliant.
Dayan and writer Didier Decoin try to pack every twist and nuance from the novel in roughly 400 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but the film never really drags. What it gets right isn't the pacing or the plot or the characters, but a reverence to the original text. While Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo is hardly Shakespeare, is it a vital and vibrant work of French fiction that has transcended both culture and time. It's as exciting a read today as it was published. Dayan doesn't disregard this. He and Decoin have made a miniseries that is truly for fans of the novel, not just fans of television dramas or Depardieu's otherworldly nose.
While some fans of Reynolds' adaptation are bound to be snoozing through long portions of this Dayan's film, those with a taste for well conceived drama are more than likely to be entirely enchanted by this production.
Aka Le Comte de Monte Cristo.