Joe Wright returns to his wheelhouse with a big-screen musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
There are two kinds of character actors: those who are chameleons that disappear into each role; and those who tend to deliver a variation on well-liked schtick. Peter Dinklage, in Cyrano, distinguishes himself as the latter.
This is not so much Peter Dinklage’s Cyrano as it is Peter Dinklage in Cyrano. And that’s no bad thing, for those who enjoy the wit and intelligence that Dinklage possesses, with some effective light brooding in between and absolutely no attempt at a French accent.
Joe Wright’s Cyrano is adapted from a stage musical version of Edmond Rostand classic play, with music from The National and written by Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt. The plot stays largely true to the original text, with Cyrano believing himself too ugly to pursue Roxane (Haley Bennett), and instead helps Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr) win her heart by writing love
letters for him.
Their plan is thrown into disarray by the powerful De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn) who also has sights set on this fair maiden. Only in this version Cyrano’s oversized nose is swapped out for Dinklage’s dwarfism, while De Guiche is promoted to Dukedom from the off and is more straightforwardly villainous. That proves a successful interpretation, and Mendelsohn chews the scenery with nightmarish aplomb, styled with grotesque makeup that makes him appear in the midst of decay.
Yet Mendelsohn’s commitment to camp cannot compensate for some of the musical numbers where the orchestration is woefully thin. He and Dinklage have decent voices, but with such shallow instrumentals they are abandoned on screen. This is not the case for every number: a country music style lament by fearful soldiers is effective; as is a duet between Bennett and Dinklage.
And Harrison Jr has such a rich, emotive voice that he can fill the room with it, but for the most part the audio cannot stand up to the visuals – and what visuals they are! It’s hard to overstate the joy of being immersed in such a feast of bright matte pastels and exquisite costuming. The dance numbers are equally lovely, particularly a ballet number from a group of training cadets.
But some of the visuals are also the film’s downfall. The age gap between Cyrano and Roxane appears to be around 30 years, and all allusions to his presence in her childhood and his eternal love for her have an unsettling predatory implication. And, while the casting seems to have been done with the best colourblind intentions, no one seems to have judged the significance of having a Black man playing the sweet, objectified dum dum who’s willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of white characters.
It’s an imperfect but enjoyable adaptation, with Wright, like Dinklage, delivering something charismatic but insubstantial.
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Published 23 Feb 2022
Tags: Ben Mendelsohn Cyrano Haley Bennett Joe Wright Peter Dinklage
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