After the disastrous The Woman in the Window from last year, Joe Wright returned in the latter half of 2021 to offer better fare. Telluride was full of whispers, rumors, and stories of a gonzo musical that was as romantic as it was ridiculous. Now we all have the chance to see Cyrano, Wright’s adaptation of the 2018 stage production of the same name (that is, in turn, based on the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac) can touch your heart as it touched mine.
This thing is a banger.
The tale is as old as time, involving a warrior named Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) that is in love with his childhood friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Trouble is that she’s in love with Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a new guard in town that experiences a mutual moment of lascivious attraction with Cyrano’s crush and thinks he’s in love. Roxanne, unfortunately, returns the lustful gaze and asks her bestie for help keeping him safe in the deadly landscape. You see, Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn) is also horny for Roxanne and will stop at nothing to possess her. When murder and games worthy of the Biblical King David enter our comedic romance, Cyrano must balance his love between his pride and newfound kinship with Christian as they try to cheat the death that De Guiche plots for each of them.
Can we talk about Dinklage for a moment? The guy has emerged as the major talent from the groundbreaking Game of Thrones television series (it’s final season somehow more of a disaster than Joe Wright’s previous film), moving forward into becoming a major film presence and now transitioning to movie star. He’s a compelling individual, equal parts broken sad sack and brash badass as he swaggers onscreen to insult an actor (though only because the love of his life is watching, giving him a thrill as he shows off his skill as a fighter alongside his poetic soul). Dinklage is a perfectly technical actor, but what he brings to Cyrano is a pathos that is hard to describe but never hard to connect with. We might not all be as swashbuckling and handsome as Peter Dinklage, but we’ve all felt loves cruel highs and lows.
He’s never truly equaled by the rest of his castmates, and this is perhaps the only small quibble with the film. Bennett is adept at playing the horny, semi-shallow love interest to…uh…well…every single dick in the film. Trouble is that she’s not given anything further to do, despite this being a modernized version of an older story, and that’s hard to forgive. While I adore that she and Dinklage can both portray flawed, interesting characters, I feel like there’s more that this iteration of the character could have been offered. Mendelsohn suffers the opposite fate, with a character that’s rich in the original play and turned into a snarling, viciously lusty villain here (though Ben Mendelsohn is, as always, more than up to the task). These are detailed quibbles, but quibbles only. Cyrano remains a magnificent and sweet film that does right by the central romance, despite complications.
It’s helped by a score from one of my favorite bands – The National. The baritone vocals of Matt Berninger are a perfect match for those of Peter Dinklage, who follows the group’s compositions through everything from love ballads to a rap battle (during a real sword fight) into what The Guardian’s Kitty Empire has dubbed “literate rock.” Despite the anachronistic feeling, the score and musical numbers work together to keep this as close to a stage production as possible without deviating from what is very aggressively a film. Their music is moody, melancholy, and full of desperate longing that is poetic in a way one could simply describe as “longing.” Fitting, at least for a film that is about the very act of longing.
This isn’t the grandiosity of Spielberg’s West Side Story or Chu’s In the Heights. It isn’t the youthful virtuosity of Chazelle’s La La Land or the audacity of Carax’s Annette. What Cyrano offers is the blunt, honest longing of one that’s felt the sting of true love and hasn’t had the boldness to admit it, nor the trust in the one they love to see their true soul. It’s a poet’s soul laid bare, and the artistry behind it is undeniably compelling even when it doesn’t completely connect.
Cyrano received a wide release in theatres across the country today.