Cyrano review: Peter Dinklage gives his best in this epic romance

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The opening number of Joe Wright’s musical Cyrano comes soft and slow. “Something to Say” is a nostalgic, nostalgic ode to love, anchored by Roxanne (Haley Bennett), the love interest in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. The low-key sequence, where Roxanne sings from her car window, “I need someone to die for / Write poems and cry for,” doesn’t hint at the wonderful intensity of the rest of the musical. But Wright’s vision, even in those first few minutes, immediately puts this adaptation in conversation with the cinematic continuum of other Cyrano adaptations, while setting the film apart from all recently released musicals.

Wright’s Take, based on Erica Schmidt’s musical adaptation of Rostand’s play, finds its inspiration in the 1950s Cyrano de Bergerac with José Ferrer and the 1990s Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu. But he reinvents both by instilling a painful anguish that recalls Shakespeare in love. Unlike previous iterations of the character, this Cyrano doesn’t feel romantically embarrassed by an oversized nose — his belief that he’s not suited for romance comes from his height. His unrivaled talent with words, as well as his undoubted bravery, lift him above his rank, but never so much that Roxanne returns his affections.

This Roxanne yearns for true love and refuses to marry the grotesque Duke De Guiche (delightfully wicked Ben Mendelsohn) for his money. The dashing face of a new Army recruit, Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), thrilled her. His desperately devoted childhood best friend, Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), languishes unheeded in the background, passing on heartfelt verses to Christian so he can woo Roxanne. The combustible throuple sparks the film’s dramatic action. The brooding ballads of The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner give this lush, melancholic love story an elegant verve.

by Wright Cyrano, delayed several times from its original 2021 release date and now all but scrapped by release company United Artists, is visually appropriate and lavish on the ball – a musical aimed at teens, the project genre which multiplexes have long lacked. Wright’s epic romance is a reminder of how musicals are made for big plans and even grander emotions.

The director delights in the poetic movements of the human body: the bakery scene, punctuated by the urgent notes of “Your Name”, is a sensual arrangement of flesh and food. Black and white arms overlap around the dough. The pastry chefs pirouette with lyricism on the fiery verses of Cyrano. Unlike other recent musicals like In the heights, Tick, tick… Boom!and Dear Evan Hansen), CyranoThe lavishly framed compositions of (by Wright’s longtime DP Seamus McGarvey) never cut into the intended majesty of the song and dance sequences.

The magnitude of this Cyrano – reminiscent of this version of Depardieu – reminiscent of Wright’s detailed work on his 2012 film Anna Karenina. McGarvey relies on deep depth of field and hovering tracking shots to admire the vast crowd of extras in intricately textured costumes and the warm palette of the production’s lavish design. Wright and publisher Valerio Bonelli (darkest hour and Florence Foster Jenkins) are smart enough not to create raw emotion by overcutting: they look for blends to create diptychs and triptychs. (A striking example comes during the haunting “Every Letter,” where Cyrano, Christian, and Roxanne harmonize together.)

Bennett gives this Roxanne a surprising depth despite her superficial anxieties, playing her much more like a dissatisfied intellectual than a dreamy newbie. His full-throated rendition of “I Need More,” a song about not settling down, adds further contours. Some songwriters gain a greater resonance, a greater spark of magic, from singers like Bennett, whose performance is hypnotic.

Photo: Peter Mountain/MGM

The blossoming romance between Christian and Roxanne is also transcendent. After Harrison’s Turns as Troubled Teenagers in Coming-of-Age Dramas Luce and Waves, her innocent and charming role here is a welcome revelation. It blends effortlessly with Bennett for a combustible chemistry of idyllic young love that, in Mitski’s words, becomes an irresistible “heat flash”. They’re so easy to root for, to the point of making moviegoers cry for the days when a hit like this would mean half a dozen more romantic movie pairings for Harrison and Bennett.

Cyrano promises Roxanne: “As always, I am at your service.” In his service, the delicate balance between giving him words for Christian’s passions and protecting Roxanne’s feelings crumbles, causing irreconcilable damage to the trouple as De Guiche comes prowling. Mendelsohn, the finest villain of his generation, shines in the film’s darkest and darkest corners. There has never been a more ruthless and vicious Guiche than his. Every note of his seething rendition of “What I Deserve” sinks like rusty talons through tender skin.

Dinklage’s assured performance progresses with equal precision. His interpretation of Cyrano is close to that of Ferrer: he plays the proud poet like a swashbuckling spirit. Unlike his predecessors, however, Dinklage allows measurable vulnerability to seep into the boastful hero.

If there’s one flaw in Wright’s film, it’s the songs. This musical is one tune away from being an irresistible collection of earworms. Often, Dinklage carries the weight of the weaker material: his low-octave vocals closely match The National’s indelible sound, but the simple monotony will annoy many non-fans. Harrison and Bennett’s accessible vocals, on the other hand, provide much-needed respite, as does the ensemble performance of “Wherever I Fall,” a mournful sublimation of silent last wishes into a heartbreaking opener.

Haley Bennett as Roxanne Smiles Across a Stone Pillar by Peter Dinklage as Cyrano in Joe Wright's Cyrano

Photo: Peter Mountain/MGM

Dinklage overcomes these obstacles for what could be the best performance of his career. He captures the wide range between moody admirer, wounded confidant and gritty war hero, for a creation far less theatrical than his predecessors in the role. Its grounding anchors the melodramatic narrative to a reality that keeps the character’s naked agony to the surface without succumbing to soft emotions.

It’s tempting to declare this movie a cult classic in the making. But critics shouldn’t make such claims – audiences should. But Wright’s Cyranofalling to the brink of Oscar season, should rightly find the kind of avid fans who flocked to see the Best Picture winner Shakespeare in love. Because not only Wright and Dinklage fashion an unrequited anguish worth mourning over and over again. Cyrano is the best musical film of the last decade.

Cyrano debuts in theaters on February 25.

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