DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Bashir Salahuddin, Ben Mendelsohn, Monica Dolan, Joshua James, Ray Strachan, Anjana Vasan, Ruth Sheen

RUNNING TIME: 124 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Self-conscious wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac (Dinklage) covertly woos his true love Roxanne (Bennett)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

For a director who can present such vivid and imaginative style when he wants to, it’s rather surprising that Joe Wright has never made a musical up to this point (and don’t you dare say that Hugh Jackman singing Nirvana in Pan counts as a musical). His directorial approach is certainly theatrical – just look at his version of Anna Karenina for proof – but it’s only with Cyrano that he’s finally been able to match his visuals with lyrics, and almost right away you can tell he is more in his element here than with some of his recent less-successful outings.

Alas, for all its stylistic wonder and directorial enthusiasm, Cyrano is a bit of an uneven project, clearly motivated by its timeless story, gorgeous production values and some strong performances, but hammered down by a rocky tone and an awkward mish-mash of compelling historical drama and forgettable musical elements.

The film is, of course, based on the classic and oft-adapted tale of Cyrano de Bergerac, the talented wordsmith and swordsman portrayed here by Peter Dinklage, with his dwarfism substituting for the character’s traditionally long nose which, despite being revered across the town, prevents his ego from proclaiming his love for the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who he has been friends with since childhood. Cyrano is dismayed to learn that Roxanne has fallen for a handsome new army recruit named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and wishes to correspond with him through a series of letters; the problem is, Christian lacks the wit and cunning wordplay to properly woo his beloved. Cyrano thus steps in to write the letters on Christian’s behalf, and starts coaching his new protégé in the best ways to win her heart, while simultaneously professing his own love through his words.

It’s a classic story which still works well enough no matter how many times you may have heard it, and the script by Erica Schmidt – who here adapts her stage musical version of the original Edmond Rostand play – manages to convey its most powerful and effective scenes as though you may be seeing them for the first time. Schmidt is extremely fortunate to have a visionary director like Joe Wright on board because, no matter what else can (and will) be said about this movie, it can’t be denied that it is a rather lovely one to look at. The cinematography, sets, costume designs and even the make-up all have the luxurious feel of an old Hollywood production, which Wright flaunts at every chance he can get to make every single detail pop out as much as possible. The acting, too, is sublime; Peter Dinklage is great as Cyrano, brilliantly embodying the character’s confidence in himself but also his vulnerability when it comes to romance, and both Haley Bennett – portraying Roxanne as a period-costume rendition of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype – and a charming Kelvin Harrison Jr. have strong scenes of their own that provide decent support to Dinklage’s central turn.

Oddly enough, it’s when the film turns into a musical that things start to go a bit more pear-shaped. The songs themselves, penned by members of the American indie rock band The National, aren’t particularly memorable and lack a definable rhythm that fits into this story or even this time period (one of the songs specifically mentions Halloween, which I’m almost sure wasn’t as widely known as such around the 17th century when this seems to take place). There is also a stiff awkwardness to some of the choreography which maintains a rather low energy throughout, while a number of the singing voices, try as they might, aren’t powerful enough to warrant some of their big numbers. It creates a strange tonal shift whenever characters start bursting into song, because it’s often during moments where lyrical expression isn’t necessarily required, and it’s to a point where it’s getting in the way of this rather decent historical drama that it’s much better at being.

Cyrano is, ultimately, a film of two distinct personalities, and it’s blatantly obvious which one of them is the strongest. There is this engaging and beautifully made and performed historical romance, which is for some reason being taken over occasionally by a mid-rate musical where you can’t even hum along to the songs afterwards; you desperately want to appreciate what it’s trying to be, but it’s trying too hard to be multiple things at the same time that its intentions start to get lost in the mix. It’s not enough to call it a bad film in the slightest, but it’s frustrating all the same when you can see as clear as day the movie that it ought to have been this whole time, instead of the jumbled confusion that it sadly became.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Cyrano is a handsome but frustratingly uneven historical romance, which has lots to offer with its exquisite production values and strong performances including Peter Dinklage in the title role, yet it is its awkward transition into musical territory which ends up bringing it down a few pegs.

Cyrano will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 25th February 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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