American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Count of Monte Cristo" is a movie that incorporates piracy, Napoleon in exile, betrayal, solitary confinement, secret messages, escape tunnels, swashbuckling, comic relief, a treasure map, Parisian high society and sweet revenge, and brings it in at under two hours, with performances by good actors who are clearly having fun. This is the kind of adventure picture the studios churned out in the Golden Age--so traditional it almost feels new.
Jim Caviezel stars, as Edmund Dantes, a low-born adventurer betrayed by his friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). Condemned to solitary confinement on the remote prison island of Chateau d'If, he spends years slowly growing mad and growing his hair, until one day a remarkable thing happens. A stone in his cell floor moves and lifts, and Faria (Richard Harris) appears. Faria has even more hair than Dantes, but is much more cheerful because he has kept up his hope over the years by digging an escape tunnel. Alas, by digging in the wrong direction, he came up in Dantes' cell instead of outside the walls, but c'est la vie.
"There are 5,119 stones in my walls," Dantes tells Faria. "I have counted them." Faria can think of better ways to pass the time. Enlisting Dantes in a renewed tunneling effort, he also tutors him in the physical and mental arts; he's the Mr. Miyagi of swashbuckling. Together, the men study the philosophies of Adam Smith and Machiavelli, and the old man tutors the younger one in what looks uncannily like martial arts, including the ability to move with blinding speed.
This middle section of the movie lasts long enough to suggest it may also provide the end, but no: The third act takes place back in society, after Faria supplies Dantes with a treasure map, and the resulting treasure finances his masquerade as the fictitious Count of Monte Cristo.