‘Cyrano’: Peter Dinklage a marvel as the master of words, swords — and song
Beautiful musical adaptation of the classic tale resembles a series of Renaissance paintings come to life.
“My sole purpose on this Earth is to love Roxanne.” – Cyrano.
Three years after the 1897 stage play “Cyrano de Bergerac” made its debut, we had the first cinematic adaptation in a silent French film of the same name. Since then, there have been a dozen movie and TV adaptations and a bounty of memorable performances, from Jose Ferrer’s Oscar-winning turn in 1950 through adaptations starring acting greats such as Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, Gerard Depardieu, Kevin Kline and we can’t forget Steve Martin in “Roxanne,” one of the most charming and enduring romantic comedies of the 1980s.
United Artists Releasing presents a film directed by Joe Wright and written by Erica Schmidt, based on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. Rated PG-13 (for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, brief language). Running time: 124 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.
Now comes a particularly creative adaptation of “Cyrano” — a musical starring Peter Dinklage in the title role, and yes, Peter Dinklage can sing, quite capably as a matter of fact. Based on the 2018 stage musical by Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife, who wrote the screenplay as well), directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Darkest Hour”) and featuring gorgeous and infectious and lush original music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the American rock band The National with lyrics from Matt Berninger and Carin Besser, “Cyrano” is a visual and aural feast.
Filmed in Sicily and featuring nomination-level production design on all levels (the costume design received an Academy Award nomination), “Cyrano” is like a series of Renaissance paintings come to life, brimming with vibrant autumnal shades, with director Wright occasionally engaging in some signature flourishing camera moves to further heighten the jaw-dropping visuals. (One battle sequence is filmed in what appears to be a single, continuous shot.)
Dinklage’s Cyrano is a 17th century phenomenon — a man whose skills with the sword are matched only by his incredible verbal talents. Instead of Cyrano’s traditional oversized nose, this Cyrano is a dwarf and has been called a “freak” his entire life, with his tormentors and foes never learning you really don’t want to mess with Cyrano, because he can quickly dispatch you with his swordsmanship or his killer wit.
Cyrano is deeply in love with his childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett of “The Devil All the Time” and “Hillbilly Elegy”), but he has never spoken to her about his true feelings because “the world will never accept someone like me and a tall, beautiful woman.” The thing of it is, Roxanne’s family is in dire financial straits and Roxanne’s mother is pressuring her to marry someone of means, regardless of whether she loves the man. (“Children need love. Adults need money.”)
The invaluable Ben Mendelsohn is suitably oily and nefarious as the wealthy and powerful Duke de Guiche, who would seem to fit the bill as Roxanne’s suitor (at least in her mother’s worldview) — but Roxanne has fallen for the dashing and goodhearted Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a new soldier recruit under Cyrano’s supervision.
You know what transpires next. Christian is halting and shy and not particularly good at expressing himself, while Cyrano is marvelous with words and thus the plan is hatched: Christian will write to Roxanne and eventually even speak to her, but he’ll be using Cyrano’s words, Cyrano’s feelings, Cyrano’s ability to make Roxanne feel as if she could fly. Dinklage’s wonderfully expressive face reflects an entire world of emotions, especially when Cyrano is alone with Roxanne and we can see a universe of love in his eyes — and yet he might as well be mute, because he cannot express his true feelings, lest she laugh him off and leave his heart crushed.
“Cyrano” is filled with gauzy, fairy tale visuals in the romantic scenes but has an authentic, gritty look in the front-line battle sequences. The trio of leads who make up the romantic trial are uniformly excellent, with Kelvin Harrison Jr. portraying Christian with great empathy, Haley Bennett putting a decidedly modern spin on her interpretation of Roxanne (who is more independent and outspoken than many previous iterations of the character), while Dinklage is nothing short of magnificent as the star-crossed Cyrano. It’s a performance for the ages.