Cyrano movie review: Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett elevate this swashbuckling musical romance
Peter Dinklage makes me laugh. In his debut, the indie classic Living in Oblivion, he plays an actor cast to add spice to a dream sequence. Continually slighted on set by his colleagues, the token dwarf finally mutters, “I swear to Christ, one of these days I’m going to punch somebody in the balls!”
Many blistering performances later (not least as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones), Dinklage is the leading man in Joe Wright’s latest big studio project. The joke’s on anyone who ever underestimated this drama king. As he proves here, there’s nothing he can’t do, though admittedly, this swashbuckling musical romance – yet another adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play – isn’t always worthy of its star.
Londoner Wright (best known for Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Darkest Hour) recently described the musical number, Wherever I Fall, as “the heartbeat of the whole film”. He’s right, but the sequence occurs roughly two hours in. That’s a long time to wait for a heartbeat.
The film is written by Dinklage’s wife Erica Schmidt and based on her 2018 stage musical, created in collaboration with members of alt-rock band The National. In Schmidt’s version, the “problem” isn’t our hero’s XL nose.
In a nook of ye Olde Europe, sardonic, sensitive soldier Cyrano (Dinklage) is smitten with tall, beautiful, intelligent Roxanne (Haley Bennett - both actors starred in the stage version). The pair are old friends. But Cyrano fears Roxanne could never love a “midget” (his word). Roxanne, sick of being pursued by the rich and ruthless De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn; wasted), falls for new recruit, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.; adorable). When Christian proves tongue-tied, Cyrano supplies the conventional cutie with an endless supply of poetic one-liners that make the young woman swoon.
Would Cyrano love Roxanne if she was a dwarf? That’s a question that’s never asked. The dilemma is simply should Cyrano declare his feelings and thus find out if his beloved is shallow or deep?
Dinklage croons like a man who’s sat up many a night, listening to Nick Cave, Bill Callahan and The National’s Matt Berninger. Even when the songs aren’t especially catchy, it’s a pleasure to listen to the actor’s wry growl. In terms of vocal technique, Bennett is more accomplished. Unluckily for her, Roxanne’s songs are more ho-hum than hummable. Worse, she’s filmed in a way that owes a debt to The Greatest Showman and – gulp - Bonnie Tyler videos.
Wright and Bennett have been in a relationship since 2018 and if he hoped to raise the profile of his abundantly talented American partner, he makes some odd choices. Roxanne simpers. She also cavorts orgasmically while being pelted by bits of paper, and dashes delectably through picturesque streets. In such scenes, what’s most notable about the character are her breasts and her capes. Nice capes!
Thankfully, everything changes when the action moves to snowy battlefields and a group of doomed soldiers, whom we’ve never met before, tell us about the letters they’re sending to loved ones. Boom! We care. By the time Cyrano and Roxanne are performing duet, “No Cyrano”, it’s all Boom! Boom! Boom! We lose our hearts to this stricken couple.
Here’s hoping Dinklage and Bennett keep getting cast as romantic leads. Blockbusters need more actors like these two. When treated with respect, Peter and Haley are to die for.
12A, cert 123mins. In cinemas