Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” is a musical adaptation of “Cyrano De Bergerac,” instilling the filmmaker’s showy visuals with a theatrical approach, as well as casting that is progressive and potentially gimmicky.
I found any hesitation I had towards Wright and his approach went away after the opening moments.
When we meet Roxanne (Haley Bennett), she’s on her way to the theater, sharing a coach with the loathsome De Guire (Ben Mendelsohn)- the environment is so richly conveyed and gorgeously rendered, the first musical number so gently introduced and Bennet so perfect in the role, the spell was cast instantly.
Once we get to the core of the story, the three leads carry a film that Wright occasionally over-directs but manages never to pulverize.
Roxanne’s love for the earnest but dopey soldier, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a confession she only shares with Cyrano, her best friend (Peter Dinklage), who has loved Roxanne secretly his entire life. Thus begins a love triangle in which Cyrano writes to Roxanne, pretending to be Christian, in order to provide Christian with his “voice” but also permitting Cyrano to finally confess his adoration towards Roxanne, albeit through letters allegedly written by her infatuated suitor.
Dinklage is incredible in this. The 1990 “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Gerard Depardieu has always been the gold standard for me in terms of a telling this story, but Dinklage made me see the character in entirely new ways.
Early reports that the gifted “Game of Thrones” regular was playing the title role had me skeptical and worried- exchanging the title character’s famously oversized nose for Dinklage’s own identity as a little person isn’t mawkish or overdone.
The forceful quality Dinklage brings to every role makes him an ideal and immensely soulful Cyrano. His scenes with Bennett, who is also extraordinary, are so moving, I found a lump in my throat appeared every time Cyrano and Roxanne shared a scene together.
Harrison Jr. is a real discovery, combining a great singing voice with a knack for finding the character’s comic tone without making him an idiot.
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Wright’s tendency to design and stage every scene to death is scaled back here, though a few scenes don’t connect. Giving Roxanne a power ballad right before the balcony scene is as tonally off as the bit where we see her writhe in bed while reading a letter.
Mendelsohn, whose seemingly permanent stint playing villains has become tiresome, has an awful number about how rotten his character is. Also, just as the film is getting its footing, it was unwise to make Dinklage’s first number a “Hamilton”-like rap he spouts out during a swordfight.
Wright’s debut feature film, the Keira Knightley-led “Pride and Prejudice,” was among my favorite films of 2005. Just about everything since, particularly “Atonement,” “The Soloist,” “Hanna,” “Anna Karenina,” “Pan” and this year’s embarrassing “The Woman in the Window,” has been an endurance test.
Yes, he can stage an impressive tracking shot but he goes above and beyond to bludgeon us with his choreography and often drowns out the human element with tidal waves of empty spectacle. I was ready to blow his latest film off and am awfully glad I didn’t.
“Cyrano” isn’t seamless but its deeply felt, often understated and impactful. If the 1990 “Cyrano de Bergerac” is definitive (at least more so to me than the Jose Ferrer version or Steve Martin’s “Roxanne”), then this is a close second.
While Peter Dinklage has recently come to star in both stage and screen adaptations of Cyrano de Bergerac, the actor freely admits that the original 1897 play penned by Edmond Rostand was not what drew him in (WATCH) https://t.co/n77hb9vQ8x
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) January 25, 2022
A handful of the musical numbers connect emotionally and really soar. Wright avoids the Tom Hooper or Alan Parker mistake of forcing every number to serve as a showstopper and just allows the songs to serve as character moments.
The movie year of 2021 has had some major ups (“Tick, Tick…Boom!” and “Annette”) and downs (“Dear Evan Hansen” and “In the Heights”) for movie musicals. This is one of the great ones, as Dinklage and Bennett connect powerfully with their classic roles, giving them dimension and heartache that makes “Cyrano” an altogether wonderful achievement.
Three and a Half Stars