Beautifully conceived, expertly performed, and a wonder to look at, Joe Wright’s Cyrano puts a musical spin on Edmond Rostand’s most famous character with Peter Dinklage embodying the role with sensitive panache.
Dinklage stars as Cyrano de Bergerac, a dwarf member of the French guards. He is an expert swordsman and amateur poet. He is also secretly in love with his close friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who is being courted by De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), a high ranking noble. During the performance of a play where Cyrano banishes the lead actor and performs a duel, Roxanne falls in love at first sight with new guard recruit Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).
Roxanne confides in Cyrano about her love for Christian and requests love letters. Christian admits he cannot write lyrically, so Cyrano concocts a scheme to write the letters for him. Using Cyrano’s poetic love letters to Roxanne, Christian gains her love despite his physical distance. With De Guiche also seeking Roxanne, the pair of guards attempt win her love…but for whom?
Music and lyrical dance are incorporated throughout the film. The songs themselves express the general themes of the plot. The music isn’t traditional show-stopping big numbers, but quietly operatic poems explaining the deep emotional feelings of the characters. For example, the song “Every Letter” expresses Christian’s joy at giving the letters, Roxanne’s extacy at receiving them, and Cyrano’s torment at writing.
The majority of the thematic focus is on Cyrano’s unrequited love. His pride in his poetic letters but his lack of faith that Roxanne could love him is his true deformity. Roxanne treats him like the human being he is. Christian similarly loves Roxanne, but begins to grow worried about their actual compatibility when Cyrano is not around. Roxanne is relatively faultless, but never comes across as snide or overbearing.
Every frame of the film is gorgeous. Light pours in around ancient pillars, while French architecture accents every corner. Between the stunning costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran, to the boldly beautiful cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, the impressively over-the-top noble makeup and hairstyles by Liz Ann Bowden, and the lavish production design by Sarah Greenwood, no craft goes by the wayside.
Dinklage stuns in every scene. Despite his diminutive stature, his physicality is on full display. His dispatching of 10 would-be assassins does not stretch the imagination. Few actors convey more sadness and longing with the look in their eyes. While Roxanne may be unaware of his deep-rooted affections, Dinklage coveys everything to the audience with barely saying a word. His recognized pain is dripping off the screen. It’s the role he was born to play.
Bennett is layered in charm and likeability. It takes little more than one scene to gain her trust and understand completely why both these men fall head over heels in love. She also has a lovely singing voice. Harrison has less to do, but also plays Christian as self-aware. As much as he longs for Roxanne, he also coveys much with his eyes. He also may be the strongest singer of the main cast. Mendelsohn does his usual snarling villainy, but punctuates with a bit of unearned sympathy.
The songs, written by The National members Matt Beringer and Carin Besser all resonate. The aforementioned “Every Letter” is triumphantly orgasmic, while “I Need More” conveys longing and independence. My personal favorite is “Wherever I Fall” about a group of soldiers preparing for their potential deaths, featuring Oscar-winner Glen Hansard and others.
Though not a typical Hollywood musical, Cyrano gives Dinklage a showcase role. Constantly a delight to behold, Wright and the craftspeople should hold their heads high at delivering an enjoyable, though melancholic tale.