It’s reasonable to say that Peter Dinklage single-handedly changed the perception of dwarf actors in his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. In a highly refreshing and memorable performance, his characterisation exuded a devilish mix of expressive charm and sardonic wit that quickly adhered him to the audience.
This level of magnetism naturally came to Joe Wright’s attention when he was casting for Cyrano. With a story centred around a forlorn and poetic swordsman who suppresses his love for his childhood sweetheart because of a physical trait, Dinklage’s uncanny talent for capturing eloquence and steely resolve became a perfect fit for the director in his musical.
Based on the stage musical by Erica Schmidt (who also happens to be Dinklage’s wife), the film similarly adapts the classic literature piece to change the protagonist’s facial disfigurement as reason for his insecurity in love into a lack of height instead.
Madly in love with his childhood friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), Cyrano finds solace in wordplay and swordplay, wresting victory after victory from any opponent in his path. There’s only one other person aware of his adoration – his fellow guard captain, Le Bret (Bashir Salahuddin). Convinced that Roxanne is of the sort that would look past physical appearances, he constantly tries to nudge the lovelorn Cyrano into confession.
Unfortunately, a new recruit by the name of Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr) joins the force and displays instant affection for Roxanne at a glance, even as she returns the admiration. Crushed by the timing, Cyrano nobly promises Roxanne to keep the new recruit protected during his service, but actually also lends his poetic gift in writing to Christian as a way to serenade her. As he aptly puts it, “I will make you eloquent, while you make me handsome.”
Given the arrangements, it’s easy to see where this love triangle can go wrong.
Wright’s adaptation is a gorgeous affair – a display of frilly costumes, lush lighting and faceted cinematography. There’s hardly anything to fault there. But as a musical, there are some decisions that feel like experimentional missteps that take one out of a complete immersion.
Presented with music by the Dessner brothers, the film achieves some edge with a contemporary touch and keeps enough sensibilities as a musical period piece. However, there’s a grit here that doesn’t lean nicely into the romantic ache and I find myself unable to feel for segments like I Need More. Others, like Madly, are delivered more successfully amidst flour and sensual acts of baking.
But most of the time, it highlights Dinklage’s lack of singing skills. To be honest, he “talks” through his pieces. When placed right up against Bennett’s effortless songbird delivery, it really shows up his lack, even if he possesses a pleasant timbre and tone. And maybe it’s because of this that the two seem to have a wavering chemistry. It’s a pity because it’s there in moments when Roxanne speaks privately to Cyrano about her relationship with Christian. But while these spoken interactions show a fondness and understanding blooming, the singing makes it teeter once again.
Cyrano’s main journey of chivalrous heartache can only be extracted if we can feel the devotion in his actions and there’s enough here from Wright to deliver the message, but the protagonist’s sacrificial act is marred slightly by an odd musicality and storytelling that feels somewhat abrupt.
Lushly rendered and nicely interpreted, the musical does fall short when it comes to its storytelling when done through song, as it robs some of the chemistry so needed for a romantic saga like this.
First published: www.moviexclusive.com