Reimagined Cyrano Out of Tune

Musical version of Rostand classic stars Peter Dinklage

By Mark Fields

The filmmakers behind the newest cinematic interpretation of Edmond Rostand’s literary classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, have made two bold revisions to the familiar script. The first, changes soldier-poet Cyrano’s distinguishing feature from an abnormally large nose to a lack of height. This revision is brilliant, especially with the nuanced acting of star Peter Dinklage. The second change was making the tale of the ultimate love triangle into a musical. Although this idea could have been refreshing, it, instead, turns Cyrano into a sour note or rather two hours worth of sour notes.

Literature fans know the story well. Cyrano (Dinklage) possesses two great gifts: he is a valiant fighter, serving with distinction in the King’s Guard. But he is also a witty romantic, equally dexterous with a pen as with a sword. But in this rendition, Cyrano’s extremely short stature convinces him that he has no chance at winning the affection of his love Roxanne (Haley Bennett). The handsome recruit Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has captured Roxanne’s attention with his physical beauty, but he borders on the inarticulate. Cyrano offers to woo Roxanne on Christian’s behalf for the opportunity to remain close to her and speak his heart by proxy.

Dinklage reminds the viewer of his profound yet subtle acting prowess (as previously demonstrated most recently in Game of Thrones) in a role well suited to his gifts and persona. He captures the discordant nature of Cyrano: ruthless yet lyrical, bold yet insecure, proud and still paralyzed with fear. Bennett makes for a vivacious, luminescent Roxanne, worthy of the love of these two men and yet blind to their true natures. Harrison makes Christian a more sympathetic character than he is often portrayed.

Cyrano’s rich performances are matched by the vibrant work of director Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, Atonement). Exceedingly comfortable in the milieu of costume drama, the look of the film is both polished and gritty, stuffed with 17th century Parisian details in every corner. The costumes (Oscar nominated), cinematography, and choreography are equally lush. But all the polish of the physical production is virtually subsumed by the unmemorable, artless music of composers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and lyricists Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. Their trite, melody-free songs are not helped by the fact that Dinklage cannot really carry a tune. Bennett can actually sing, but most of these prosaic songs seem written to be spoken, not sung. Only the battlefield ballad, “Wherever I Fall,” stayed in my mind after the movie’s conclusion (movie trivia note: the first singer in “Whenever…” is Glen Hansard, the creator and star of the musical film Once).

As a fan of both Dinklage and director Wright, I really wanted to like this film. Further, I applaud the creativity of redefining Cyrano’s “abnormality” (which normally can lend a comical tone to a character who is essentially tragic). But the ill-crafted musical element of Cyrano makes it difficult, if not impossible to embrace. How can you love a movie that celebrates the romantic ideal of poetry and yet is ultimately so tone deaf?

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.