What an interesting actor Peter Dinklage is. Since his memorable breakthrough turn in “The Station Agent” (2003), this little but undeniably versatile actor has steadily impressed us during last 19 years, and Joe Wright’s new film “Cyrano” reminds us again of Dinklage’s sheer talent and presence. Although the movie does not always work well, Dinklage’s enjoyable performance carries it to the end nonetheless, and that is more than enough for overlooking several glaring problems including its rather uneven second half.
The movie is based on the 2018 stage musical of the same name written by Erica Schmidt, who is incidentally Dinklange’s wife and also adapted her stage musical for the film. That stage musical was based on French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and Rostand’s play was loosely based on the life of Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), who has been regarded as an immortal literature figure of unrequited love for many decades thanks to the popularity of Rostand’s play.
In Rostand’s play, Cyrano is often hesitant about expressing his romantic feeling to a woman he loves just because he is always conscious of his rather big nose. In case of Dinklage’s Cyrano in the film, he is afraid of being rejected by her due to his short height, but his dwarfism does not stop him at all from being bold, brave, and eloquent in front of others, and the opening sequence shows how he daringly interrupts a stage performance because he cannot possibly allow the audiences to suffer another bad evening.
One of the audiences is a young woman named Roxanne (Haley Bennett), and she is the one for whom Cyrano has carried a torch for years. When she later comes to him for telling him that she has fallen in love with someone she saw in that eventful evening, he is quietly devastated to know that she is actually attracted to not him but Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a young man who recently joins his regiment. Nevertheless, he promises to Roxanne that Christian will be under his protection, and, what do you know, he comes to befriend Christian faster than he expected.
Discerning that Christian has been genuinely smitten with Roxanne since their accident encounter during that evening, Cyrano decides to help Christian wooing Roxanne more. Despite his sincere affection and passion, Christian is not so good at writing anything romantic enough to charm and dazzle Roxanne, so Cyrano comes to ghostwrite Christian’s letters to be sent to her, and, as a witty and articulate wordsmith, he does not disappoint both Roxanne and Christian at all.
The mood becomes more comical when Christian attempts to attract Roxanne more with Cyrano hidden from her sight, but then the situation becomes more complicated due to another man attracted to Roxanne. As a rich and powerful nobleman, De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn) can coerce Roxanne to be his wife, and Roxanne tries to be tactful with this despicable dude as much as she can, but then there comes a point where she makes a choice which will affect Christian as well as Cyrano forever.
As these four main characters bounce off each other during its first half, the movie provides a series of musical scenes, and Wright and his crew members including cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who previously collaborated with Wright in “Atonement” (2007) and “Anna Karenina” (2012), work a lot for bringing a considerable amount of visual energy into these musical scenes. As often conscious of its showy technical aspects, we come to discern more of its artificial aspects, but, thanks to Wright’s competent direction, the movie is at least more tolerable than whatever we had to endure in Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” (2012).
In case of the music and lyrics of the film, which are written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, I must tell you that they are not memorable enough to linger on your mind, but Dinklage and several other cast members of the film sing their songs mostly well on the whole. In addition, there is also a nice surprise from Oscar-winning musician Glen Hansard (Remember “Once” (2006)?), who briefly appears at the beginning of a gloomy musical sequence in the second half of the movie.
I was a bit disappointed to see that the movie comes to fizzle during the expected ending, but Dinklage still holds the center as before, and his fellow main cast members are well-cast in their respective parts. While Haley Bennett, who has been more notable thanks to her harrowing performance in “Swallow” (2019), shines with enough pluck and spirit, Kelvin Harris Jr. is effective as a clueless but likable lad, and they are believable in their characters’ innocent obliviousness to what is going on among them and Cyrano. In case of Ben Mendelsohn, this wonderful Australian character actor demonstrates again that he is indeed born to play mean and petty villains, and I especially enjoyed how he deftly handles his sole musical scene with gusto and intensity just like Jeremy Irons did in Disney animation film “The Lion King” (1994).
Overall, “Cyrano” is a mild but entertaining musical movie thanks to the game efforts from its cast and crew members, and Dinklage did a commendable job of presenting his own version of Cyrano. While he will always be remembered for his Emmy-winning performance in HBO TV drama series “Game of Thrones”, he can certainly do many other things besides that, and, as my late mentor/friend Roger Ebert suggested at the end of his review on “The Station Agent”, there is no good reason why Dinklage could not play Braveheart.
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