Truly exciting modern swashbucklers are hard to come by. The first Antonio Banderas Zorro was great fun, and I’m a big, big fan of the Gore Verbinski Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as he’s a premiere visual talent who makes some of the most unorthodox and unique blockbusters. But one film that snuck in under the radar was 2002’s The Count of Monte Cristo, from Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves helmer Kevin Reynolds. Featuring two rock-solid performances from then up-and-coming stars Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce, the film was bolstered considerably by fabulous production values; Andrew Dunn’s exceptional cinematography and the sumptuous set decoration and overall design by Mark Geraghty really evoked time and place with a great sense of style that was never over the top. Crisply adapted from the classic Alexandre Dumas novel by Jay Wolpert, who also worked on the first Pirates film, the plot was streamlined with the action elements beefed up, but the film never felt cheapened or dumbed-down for contemporary audiences, with both Caviezel and Pearce offering up impassioned performances that fit their respective molds just right. On a $25 million budget, the film became a theatrical success with a box office gross of $75 million worldwide, but this is certainly one of those films that has had a long shelf life on cable and disc. You can’t go wrong with a supporting cast that includes Richard Harris, Luis Guzman, Michael Wincott, James Frain, and Henry Cavill, and the sweeping musical score from Edward Shearmur immediately set an appropriately high-stakes tone with rousing emotional beats. This film didn’t try and pretend to be anything other than what it was — a spirited romp through classic material told with directorial panache and an unpretentious sense of classical Hollywood hat-tipping.

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