Peter Dinklage Leads Perfectly Serviceable ‘Cyrano’

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Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – This is no small feat, but “Cyrano” works as well as it does because it puts a couple of new spins on the material while keeping the essence of this tale … which is seemingly as old as time. For those not paying attention during high school literature classes, Cyrano De Bergerac is a gallant hearted hero and actor who is in love with the maiden Roxanne, who happens to be his best friend.

Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) has the soul of a poet, but his physical deformity – here represented by Dinklage’s short stature rather than a large nose – provides a seemingly insurmountable barrier to their union. So he offers to essentially ghost write a romance for a beautiful lunkhead named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who also has designs on Roxanne (Haley Bennett), while Cyrano’s passion still burns for the maiden from the shadows.

Photo credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Peter Dinklage has made such strides as an actor that his presence in the title role demands to be taken seriously and keeps the film from any hack-like pretenses. Dinklage is in fine form, is no stranger to period drama, and seems to be having fun swashbuckling within the story (he reprises his Off Broadway role the film is adapted from). He brings real heart and warmth to the role so we see his heart breaking in his expressive eyes. We also see him as a character who happens to also be a little person, not a little person trying to be a leading man. Haley Bennett is a winsome presence as Roxanne, who faces her own headwinds in her quest for love. And Kelvin Harrison Jr. portrayal of Christian, the pretty face who needs Cyrano’s words to help love blossom, also displays some nice subtlety.

Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) knows his way around prestige projects like this, and has created a handsomely mounted production featuring impeccable costumes with pomp and circumstance to spare. However the story’s most famous scene, highlighting Cyrano feeding the hapless Christian sweet words beneath Roxanne’s balcony to his love in the moonlight feels strangely pedestrian and flat … as if it were an act of literature nerd fan service that no one was particularly into.

But this umpteenth take on this legend also turns the story into a musical … that proves to either be an entertaining jolt of incongruous energy, or a distracting gimmick depending on your stomach for song and dance. Bennett in particular has a fine voice in delivering the perfectly pleasant and competently staged tunes I have a soft spot for musicals with a decent melody, and the songs here aren’t obtrusive, but for me they seemed to lack that certain ear worm quality that gets a song stuck in your head for days afterwards.

Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage in ‘Cyrano’
Photo credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer

In all, this is a perfectly serviceable take on the material … it’s not definitive but it’s not a disaster. Time will tell if this one will endure and stand the test of time in the same way that Gerard Depardieu’s “Cyrano De Bergerac” (1990) does, or even Steve Martin’s more comedic take on the same story with “Roxanne” (1987). But If you’re looking to avoid actually reading the book for an upcoming homework assignment, you could do a lot worse.

“Cyrano” opens in theaters on February 25th. Featuring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn and Monica Dolan. Written by Erica Schmidt, from her play. Directed by Joe Wright. Rated “PG-13” contributor Spike Walters


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