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Count of Monte Cristo, The

Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce both shine in this rousing adventure tale based on Alexandre Dumas' classic novel.

Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a humble young sailor in early 19th century France who is attempting to earn enough money to marry his sweetheart Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) and support his elderly father. While returning from a particular arduous time at sea, circumstances land Dante's ship on the island of Elba, which is to be avoided at all costs as it is the home of deposed emperor Napoleon. There he encounters Napoleon, and naively accepts a request from the diminutive former ruler to deliver a personal letter.

But he is charged with treason after a jealous shipmate conspires with Dantes' lifelong "friend" Fernand Mondego (Pierce) to "take care" of Dantes. Despite coming from privilege, Mondego has always secretly been jealous of Dantes. And he has designs on Mercedes too.

Dantes is presumed dead, but he actually ends up in a hell hole of a prison where he suffers all manner of abuse for many years. But Dantes finds an ally in his cellmate, Abbe Faria, an educated priest and master swordsman played with aplomb by the late Richard Harris.

Faria passes on all his wisdom to Dantes and shows him the way of the sword. He also lets Dantes know about a secret stash of treasure.

Several years and one daring escape later, Dantes finds the treasure and reinvents himself as the titular character, a mysterious and rich Count. He then enters high society and plots his revenge against Mondego.

The Count of Monte Cristo has been filmed more than twenty times and it's not hard to see why - it's a cracker of a story with all the right elements - swordplay, romance, daring do, revenge. This production adds in beautiful locations and a stellar cast - all of which adds up to one of the most enjoyable classic adventure films of recent years.

Caviezel pulls off Dantes transformation effectively, proving himself an able leading man in the classic mould. And Pearce preens gloriously as the bitter Mondego - this guy should play the baddie more often.

James Frain (Where the Heart Is, Hilary and Jackie), an under-appreciated actor in Hollywood, does well as a civil co-conspirator of Mondego's and Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights, Out of Sight) gives good support as the Count's Valet.

The gravel-voiced Michael Wincott (Talk Radio, Along Came A Spider) is also fun as the sadistic warden of Dantes' prison.

The Count of Monte Cristo is directed by Kevin Reynolds, who had similar success with classic material in his 1989 hit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Reynolds also collaborated with that films' star Kevin Costner in the notorious action adventure Waterworld, but stories emerged that producer/star Costner shut Reynolds of the editing room and cut the bloated epic himself.