Film review: ‘CYRANO’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Darkest Hour and Atonement director Joe Wright’s vibrant, occasionally awkward and sometimes moving Cyrano is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name which was itself based on dramatist Edmond Rostand’s classic 1897 romantic tragi-comedy Cyrano de Bergerac.

Through its title character, the story of Cyrano celebrates the arts of wit and rhetoric and the power of words to convey the human condition and apparently to seduce women.  Here, Peter Dinklage plays Cyrano, a man of remarkable intellect and skill, a lethal swordsman, eloquent speaker and poet who’s revered by his fellow soldiers in the French King’s Guard.  Despite his remarkable talents, his diminutive stature deprives him of the confidence to declare his love for lifelong friend Roxanne (Hayley Bennett). His hopes of ever winning her are further set back when she falls for dashing newcomer Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr).  Desperate to find an outlet for his feelings, Cyrano agrees to supply the inarticulate Christian with his romantic poetry to court Roxanne even speaking for him in the darkness as he beseeches Roxanne from beneath her balcony like Romeo.  Both Cyrano and Christian’s romantic dreams are threatened, however, by the fiendish and conniving Lord De Guiche (Ben Mendelssohn) who also has designs on Roxanne.

With this version of the Cyrano tale, Joe Wright has crafted a mostly impressive drama where the story of honour in the face of romantic longing is often quite affecting.  This is due in part to Erica Schmidt’s screenplay which she adapted from the stage version but primarily because of the fine cast performances. Peter Dinklage gives Cyrano wonderful wit, physicality and pathos and commands the screen throughout the film.  He breathes the language and makes palpable the pain of Cyrano’s unrequited love for Roxanne.  As the much sought-after Roxanne, Hayley Bennett is appropriately charming even though she seems oddly naïve and oblivious to Cyrano’s affections. It’s only later she reveals greater emotional depth as her and her various suitors’ situations become more dire.  Similarly, Kelvin Harrison initially plays Christian as an amusingly vain and shallow character but touchingly reveals himself to be a more complex figure in the film’s grim latter stages.  Ben Mendelsohn seems to be carving out a niche in Hollywood as a creepy villain.  Thankfully, here, he tones down some of his more extravagant flourishes to make De Guiche a malevolent but nuanced figure.

While it succeeds as a drama, this film does not work particularly well as a musical.  Most of the songs are typically bland theatrical power ballads that lack memorable melodies and occasionally feature the dreaded talk-singing.  Thankfully, the songs are distributed fairly sparsely throughout the film and don’t detract too much from the drama.

Although this film is based on a theatrical production, Joe Wright, has managed to create a piece of cinema rather than a filmed play.  He gives the story an expansive feel and captures at least some of the grit and grime of what history tells us about 17th European century street life.  His depiction of the ailing soldiers grinding out the 30 Years War, on desolate snow-covered mountains toward the end of the film is particularly striking and atmospheric. The film is also notable for its costuming which has earned an Oscar nomination.

While this mix of drama, romance, comedy, musical and tragedy doesn’t entirely coalesce, its best moments are memorable.

Nick’s rating:     1/2.

Genre: Romance/drama/ tragicomedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Joe Wright.

Release date: 24th Feb 2022.

Running time: 124 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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