3 out of 5 stars
Edmond Rostand’s story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been well-worn since its original stage production in 1897. Many are familiar with his depiction of a soldier/poet with a huge nose and an insatiable love for his life-long friend, Roxanne. A love out of reach, the value of one’s heart disguised by physical appearances and seeing the one you love give their heart to another have all been the catalyst to many tragic tales of the broken-hearted throughout the years. Then, having Joe Wright the director of Darkest Hour and Pride & Prejudice put Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) in the title role and making it into a musical may cause the world to take notice.
For the benefit of those who cannot remember Steve Martin’s Roxanne or have not seen Gérard Depardieu’s take on this legendary role, here is a summary of this dark love story. As a captain within the French guard in the late 1800s, Cyrano (Dinklage) is an accomplished swordsman who is respected by his regiment and a well-known poet. During his time outside of the military, this leader of men is a faithful companion to his friend of many years, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Due to his more diminutive stature, he is considered a friend of the statuesque woman. He merely serves her with no reservation, but secretly loves her with all of his being.
Men pursue her beauty throughout the city, including the wealthy and influential Comte De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Yet, she only has eyes for Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a soldier who has recently joined the guard within Cyrano’s unit. As she fends off the advances of De Guiche, Roxanne asks her small friend to befriend this young soldier and encourage Christian to write to her. This request is unbearable for Cyrano to consider until he realises that this is his opportunity to express his love to the woman who captivates his every thought. Since Christian has no mastery of the written word, the two men devise a plan where one writes the letters and the other signs them while gaining the heart of Roxanne.
Even if you have not seen the stage production or other films, this is a tale that is familiar in many narratives throughout history. Wright honours Rostand’s original love story, but does add elements that could either derail this project or give it the modernised spin to appeal to contemporary audiences. Firstly, to have Dinklage in the title role works well. He is an excellent actor who commands respect on screen and his small stature gives this role unexpected originality. As an accomplished performer, he is convincing in the period and as a warrior/poet. Yet, it is the next spin that has the potential for many to pause when considering this film.
Fans of the director and the lead actor may be surprised to know that this is a musical, an unconventional and surprising choice. Still, there are songs and dance numbers throughout. Most of the cast were evidently chosen for their acting abilities and few are natural vocalists. Bennett, Harrison and Dinklage give their all to carry the vocals. At the same time, Ben Mendelsohn may be reminiscent of Russell Crowe’s performance in Les Miserables for the audience. These musical interludes may be forgivable for all who embraced Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Yet, do not go into this film with the expectation of The Greatest Showman or West Side Story. Each musical number is bearable and it is worth hanging on for the Wherever I Fall number that includes Glen Hansard (Once), this song makes the whole movie worth the price of admission.
Joe Wright’s Cyrano is worth the time even though it could be said that the director is trying to do too many things at once. Peter Dinklage in the lead role, the musical segments and the modernisation of a classic love story make the journey awkward and disjointed at times. Still, this rendition does have something to offer modern audiences. If anything, it introduces the world to the beauty of well-written prose, the re-introduction of a classic play and it will challenge anyone's entertainment expectations.
REEL DIALOGUE: The value of words
We have lost the art of well-written words and letter writing. Throughout this film, it can be said that the story is built on the value of beautiful prose. Specifically the importance of words and how they provide depth, solace, expression and healing.
It is hard to imagine that the Bible could have an answer to the perplexing notion of the use of language and words, but it does. We can see God's value for words by giving his Son, Jesus, the label of The Word. As in the film, with each letter that is written, the Bible continues to prove how every word has meaning and value. When used correctly, words are a powerful force and can be life-changing when coming from the one who created them.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1