Cyrano Review: A Brilliant Adaptation of the Swashbuckling Musical Romance

A dwarf soldier (Peter Dinklage) helps another (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) woo his true love (Haley Bennett) in Cyrano.
Peter Dinklage continues to shatter acting archetypes as the swashbuckling swooner Cyrano. He reprises his starring role from the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical by Erica Schmidt. Now adapted for the big screen by British auteur Joe Wright. Who crafts an elegant period romance with dramatic and sublimely artistic heft. The film is a tragic tale of unrequited love. Cyrano suffers from intermittent pacing issues, but never loses its grip on your heart.
In Napoleonic Paris, the ravishingly beautiful and sophisticated Roxanne (Haley Bennett) has the vile suitor, De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), clamoring for her hand in marriage. Roxanne detests him, but her handmaiden (Monica Dolan) warns they are skirting poverty. A wealthy husband means food on the table and a roof over the heads. Roxanne accepts a theater date from De Guiche but is transfixed by a sultry gaze from the handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Surely this is love at first sight.
Meanwhile, famed soldier Cyrano De Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) has secretly loved Roxanne for ages. They are dear friends, but he cannot overcome his embarrassment of being a dwarf. How can someone as detestable as him woo such a woman? Cyrano is devastated when Roxanne reveals her intent on finding Christian. His soul is further crushed when Christian enlists in Cyrano’s army unit. He quickly realizes that Christian’s awkward and bumbling personality has no chance with her. Cyrano decides to bury his feelings deep and help Christian win Roxanne’s affection.
Cyrano is not just a character that hides in the shadows feeding sweet poetry to Roxanne. He’s a skilled fighter who’s consistently challenged on streets and battlefields. Peter Dinklage wields his rapier with lethal precision. I expected singing and dancing but was frankly stunned by the film’s fight scenes. Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour) allows Dinklage to fully embody all aspects of the role. His stature as a dwarf leads enemies to underestimate him. They pay the price for arrogance with their lives.
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The musical numbers are brilliantly staged. Joe Wright does not succumb to unnecessary extravagance. Some scenes are epic, while others are quietly suited to the moment. Wright never allows the script to become overblown. He puts his faith in the ability of his cast to carry subtle gravitas without indulgent filmmaking. This is especially evident in the masterfully directed initial romantic forays involving Cyrano, Roxanne, and Christian.
The classic French play Cyrano De Bergerac had the protagonist ashamed of his protuberant nose. Dwarfism is not an affliction or a curse. The character update is effective in showing how Cyrano needlessly allowed his self-worth to be defined by the cruelty of others. The lesson is that true love needs to be blind. Roxanne would not deserve such adulation if she discounted Cyrano solely based on his height.
Cyrano is a well-acted and directed musical. I’m not usually a fan of the genre, so it was a pleasant surprise. The film runs a smidge over two hours. It’s not long, but there are periods of sluggishness. The monologues add up. The narrative needs the characters to express their feelings with lengthy asides. There’s a lot to like here, so the pacing is forgivable. Cyrano is a production of MGM, Bron Creative, and Working Title Films. It had a limited Los Angeles engagement on December 17th to qualify for awards contention. Cyrano will have national distribution on January 21st from United Artists Releasing.
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