Review: Peter Dinklage carries ‘Cyrano’ movie-musical



Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kevin Harrison Jr., Cyrano is based on a screen-write.

In an awards season filled with musical-to-movie adaptations like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” and “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” Hollywood’s latest movie-musical “Cyrano” stands apart from the crowd with its ambitious scope, swashbuckling theatrics and grandiose atmosphere. While the film’s structure does lose focus (especially in the film’s final act) and some of the characters are frustratingly one-note, Peter Dinklage’s turn as the eponymous Cyrano makes Joe Wright’s film worth the watch, even if it’s not the strongest musical of the year.

Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr., “Cyrano” is based on screenwriter Erica Schmidt’s stage musical of the same name, which in turn was based on the classic 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The film follows the titular hero Cyrano (Dinklage), a talented duelist in the French army with a remarkable gift for poetry. Though unflinching and confident with both a sword and a pen, Cyrano’s physical deformities (in the original play, a large nose, but substituted here with Dinklage’s dwarfism) prevent him from chasing the one thing in life he truly wants — romance with his childhood best friend Roxanne (Bennett).

Just as Cyrano is building up the courage to confess his feelings to Roxanne, the situation is complicated when she falls head over heels for Christian de Neuvillette (Harrison Jr.), a new recruit under Cyrano’s command. Though Christian is undeniably handsome, he lacks the verbosity to properly woo Roxanne, so Cyrano agrees to pen romantic letters under Christian’s name for Roxanne to read. Soon, she’s fallen in love with his words and wants to marry Christian, entirely unaware that the man she’s actually fallen for is her oldest friend.

“Cyrano” boasts a classically inspired romantic narrative that feels almost fairytale-esque in its premise and structure. Maybe it’s the decadence of the production design and costumes, but there’s an old-fashioned air to the film that gives it a levity and charm not usually inherent in so many of Hollywood’s recent musical adaptations. From its opening moments, “Cyrano” feels like a film that stands on its own integrity and not simply a retelling of an already successful narrative — which is ironic, considering its source material is perhaps the most frequently told and retold of any movie-musical this year.

However, despite the initially strong concept of Roxanne falling in love with letters from Christian that are actually penned by Cyrano, the film struggles to manage its time properly and resolves their romantic entanglements rather quickly, after taking nearly an hour to establish all the players in the first place. What results is a strong first act, a jilted second act and a finale that feels lost and meandering, unsure of how to resolve the narrative now that the main draw has been handled and wrapped up so quickly.

To the film’s credit, it goes against the mold in not simply allowing Cyrano to get the girl and for he and Roxanne to have a happily ever after — instead, both he and Christian are sent to the front lines at the behest of Roxanne’s villainous, uber-rich suitor De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn. There, they battle the harshness of the elements and the horrors of war, and the film’s last 20 minutes are a tragic, dreary recounting of the trauma they endured and how it stuck with all of the characters even years later.

It’s a jarring, disjointed ending that — though remarkably thoughtful and well-tied to Cyrano’s accidental killing of Valvert at the beginning of the film — robs “Cyrano” of any sense of urgency and waters down what could’ve been an otherwise delightful and airtight period romance musical with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

Speaking of humor, the film’s dialogue (especially that of our hero Cyrano) is without question one of its strongest points; coupled with Wright’s direction, there’s an idiosyncratic musicality to the dialogue delivery that makes the spoken scenes flow beautifully with the score. The cleverness of the dialogue also helps to highlight not only Cyrano’s talent with words, but also Dinklage’s capability as an actor. He shoulders the tongue-twisting lines with ease, making quick work of scenes that would leave many an actor stumbling.

Dinklage is without question the film’s greatest asset — his natural charm and charisma serve him well, and it’s easy to buy that his Cyrano is a mischievous and well-loved hero of the people, even if both he and some of the more close-minded townsfolk look down on him for his physical differences. While his singing voice may not win him any Grammys, the sincerity with which he sings his numbers, coupled with his pitch-perfect dialogue delivery, make him a magnetic onscreen presence that injects unmistakable life into the film.

Outside of Dinklage’s performance, though, the rest of the cast struggles to keep pace with such a dazzling lead. Bennett’s Roxanne is a frustratingly dull and shallow heroine who’s difficult to root for at best and flat-out unlikable at most, and though Harrison Jr. has the pipes to earn his place among the ranks, his Christian is similarly underwritten, making him the cartoonishly obvious second choice to the charming and well-spoken Cyrano.

Still, despite the shortcomings of the film’s pacing, the somewhat half-baked character. “Cyrano” still works as an ambitious, sweeping musical with a compelling lead and a decadent sense of aesthetics. Though not always as sharply written as it could be, Dinklage’s performance makes this musical love triangle worth the price of admission.