Joe Wright is an expert in literary adaptations, such as Atonement, Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina, and Peter Dinklage is undoubtedly a great actor, but his adaptation of Edmond Rostand‘s famous play Cyrano de Bergerac is a real disappointment.
Based on a musical play released in 2018, scripted by Dinklage’s wife Erica Schmidt and starring Dinklage and Haley Bennett, who is married to Wright, plus songs by The National‘s Dessner brothers, the film repeats the same cast and Wright knows how to give the whole thing his visual tone, But the film fails for the simplest of reasons – if you make a musical, the songs have to be memorable, or at least hummable, and the accompanying numbers should not bore, or be seen as an interruption to the plot, which is exactly what happens here. There is not a single song in Cyrano that remains, not a single dance that doesn’t squeak.
For someone who likes the music of The National, the songs here sound like sketches of songs rather than finished pieces, and there is not a single memorable chorus in the whole film. It’s a crime that in a musical film, the only moderately exciting song is sung by three extras who have not appeared up to that point, and will never appear again. I’m referring to the scene before the battle and the song about the farewell letters sent by the soldiers, and yes, among those extras is Glen Hansard, the protagonist of Once, but the fact that he is a professional singer is not the only thing that makes it stand out, because although it is obvious that Dinklage does not have a great voice, he knows how to use it, and his low tone is reminiscent of the baritone of The National’s singer Matt Berninger. The problem is another, the rest of the songs aren’t good enough…. Neither is the choreography…
In the face of this problem, the film can’t get off the ground at any point, despite Dinklage’s brilliant performance. His choice is perfect for the role and he knows how to give the whole aura of a wounded and tortured creature to his character, someone with a spectacular command of the word and the sword, capable of taking on ten men on his own, challenging a nobleman from France but then being unable to esteem himself in the slightest in front of the person he loves. Replacing the huge nose with his dwarfism is a nice twist and is very well handled by the lead actor, although other changes in the film are less justifiable, if forgivable.
What is less forgivable is that Roxanne, Cyrano’s unattainable love object, is so poorly defined that it is unclear whether the film shows her to be very cruel or very stupid. And Dinklage’s performance as the man in love is as clear to the viewer as it is to the other characters, and it seems impossible that it takes him several years, even a few years longer than the attractive but not particularly brilliant Christian, to figure it all out….
The film is mortally wounded every time the music starts to play.
There is also a lack of comic relief for a Cyrano who wallows too much in his melancholy and sadness, although, even so, there are also things to highlight, beyond Dinklage’s performance. The presentation of the character is quite good, turning their first duel almost into a rap-style cockfight, although I got the impression that they could have made a much more radical adaptation by taking the characters to another era. Wright’s staging is also remarkable, making the most of Sicily’s natural scenery.
However, the film is mortally wounded every time the music starts to play and is incapable of transmitting the emotions that Cyrano is so brilliant at describing, the joy, the sadness, the longing, the despair or, above all, the love and the suffering derived from it. Every time the music starts in this film, the spectator begins to squirm uncomfortably in his seat, and that can’t mean anything good in a musical…