Peter Dinklage Helen Bennett Kelvin Harrison, Jr. Ben Mendelsohn
Cyrano is a musical in which a princess, Roxanne (Bennett), is pining for love, to which her lady in waiting argues that “Love doesn’t last; what lasts is compromise and sacrifice.” (She means that Roxanne should be looking out for her economic welfare over love considerations), which goes right over the beautiful young woman’s head. Roxanne (Bennett) sings back that she never wants to marry unless she can find someone to love. Her current suitor, the Duke De Guiche (Mendelsohn) could indeed be her future, but Roxanne loathes him, and only sees him for what she can get from him (e.g., theater tickets).
What Roxanne doesn’t know is that her friend since childhood, Cyrano (Dinklage), has always loved her, but thinks that she will simply laugh at him for thinking she could fall in love with such a short man. The story develops from there, such that the man Roxanne is attracted to (from just a glance) is Christian (Harrison), a handsome guard under Cyrano’s command. The two exchange one glance from afar and both literally fall in love at first sight (or so it seems).
When Roxanne confesses to her friend Cyrano her love for Christian, who has just been recruited into the guard, she begs Cyrano to mentor and protect her love. Since he cannot deny Roxanne anything, he promises to do so, which puts him into a serious bind between his own interest and what he has promised. This bind leads to his writing love letters for Christian to send as his own to Roxanne.
It was serendipity that scheduled Houston critics to see Spielberg’s West Side Story the night before Cyrano, giving us the opportunity to contrast the two love stories. And what a difference; where West Side Story, despite its performance value (and my usual admiration for Spielberg), seemed to me to be a tiresome, dated, story of machismo, Joe Wright’s Cyrano makes an elegiac tribute to a man in an older period piece (17th Century), for whom compromise and sacrifice become very real to him, despite his acclaimed swordsmanship.
Sprinkled throughout the drama are bits of humor (Cyrano’s claim that “Halloween is my favorite holiday” after he has been called a freak, statements like “Her imperfections are perfect”), insightful observations (a narcissistic young woman singing, “I need more”), the non-glorification of fighting—even in the case of war), and demonstrations of true love (seen in Cyrano’s letters, soldiers’ letters home, and the final scene).
Screenwriter Erica Schmidt is the one who took a different view of Cyrano the character by focusing not on his nose, but making him a dwarf mocked for his stature, and one who believes no woman could love him as he is. (There is tenderness in this concept in that Schmidt is married to Dinklage, and she wrote the part specifically for him.)
Peter Dinklage has long been one of my favorite actors, and it is high time he gets an Academy award for his performance as lead in a major motion picture. He has numerous other awards to count, but I think it’s time his nominations and awards for “Most Promising Actor” in The Station Agent (2004) and supporting actor for Game of Thrones and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri be followed up with more than a nod from the Academy—for his acting. Admittedly, singing is not his strong suit, but his resonant bass still pleases.
Joe Wright’s previous films (e.g., Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, Darkest Hour) are testament to his talent in the art and craft of filmmaking. Elements contributing to his success in Cyrano include Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s music, Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography, and Sarah Greenwood’s production design, some of whom have collaborated with Wright on other projects.
Cyrano, with the swagger and expert swordplay of Tyrion (Dinklage) in Game of Thrones has a much bigger heart and compassion to go with his more macho qualities. He is a truly admirable soldier in this production, but as skilled in the art of language as he is in wielding a sword.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland