by Toby Woollaston
Verdict: Dinklage rises above the powdered-wigs to deliver a charming performance.
Filmmaker Joe Wright is no mug when it comes to impressive period pieces about unrequited love. Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina, all excellent films, are cut from the same cloth. Cyrano is more of the same, except this time it’s a musical and has considerably more wigs.
The odd decision to make Cyrano a musical makes more sense when you consider it was adapted for the screen by Erica Schmidt. Her own stage-musical from which this film is based, was in turn inspired by Edmond Rostand’s 19th Century play where the titular wordsmith, Cyrano de Bergerac, a man with a disfigured nose, acts as a go-between for two star-crossed lovers. Here, Schmidt replaces the long schnozz with a short man—a move that might’ve ruffled a few politically correct feathers had her husband not been the film’s star (and most likely the world’s most famous dwarf), Peter Dinklage.
Poking out the top of a suitably ruffled costume Cyrano (Dinklage), with his mournfully wounded-dog eyes and pen in hand, woos Roxanne (Haley Bennett) on behalf of the dim-witted Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). It’s a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, as we learn early in the film that Cyrano harbours a secret love for the same women. Add to the mix a slippery Ben Mendelsohn, who slithers into frame as the villainous De Guiche, and what follows is a wonderfully compelling (and at times comical), dance between the film’s mainstays. Cyrano avoids descending into a male conquest story and Bennett’s take on Roxanne never succumbs to the abject “damsel” trope, rather, her interpretation imbues the character with more autonomy than previous versions.
Such is Joe Wright’s experience as an “actors director”, Cyrano undoubtedly operates better as a drama than a musical. This is in part due to the gloomy tendencies of composers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (from the band The National, who are known for their darker numbers) whose songs are hit-and-miss, and partly because Dinklage makes a far better actor than he does a singer. Thankfully, the diminutive Dinklage climbs out of the Dessner dirge, scales a mountain of ruffles, buckles, and powdered-wigs, and provides a worthwhile reason to see this film.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.