Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Joe Wright
scr Erica Schmidt
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Guy Heeley
with Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Dolan, Joshua James, Ruth Sheen, Mark Benton, Richard McCane, Peter Wight, Tim McMullan
release US 17.Dec.21,
UK 14.Jan.22
21/UK MGM 2h04

bennett mendelsohn dolan

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dinklage and harrison
Playwright Erica Schmidt adapts her stage musical version of the classic play, which director Joe Wright turns into a lavish 17th century period romp with raucous Gilliamesque flourishes. Sparkling verbal and visual panache adds snap to the story, including a lovely range of intimate moments, comical action sequences and a climactic wartime sequence. So even if the story is familiar, the way it's told feels fresh and revelatory.
Open to the possibilities of love, Roxanne (Bennett) is at the theatre with her foppish suitor De Guiche (Mendelsohn) when she spots the handsome Christian (Harrison) and is instantly smitten. Learning that he's a trainee with her sword-master friend Cyrano (Dinklage), Roxanne asks for his help to get to know Christian. But Cyrano secretly loves Roxanne, feeling himself unworthy due to his physicality. So he expresses his feelings in letters he writes for the inarticulate Christian. Roxanne knows something is up, but she falls for Christian's soul, which presents Cyrano with a moral conundrum.
Cyrano is dismissed by posh society, who fail to see his lacerating wit or sword-fighting skills due to bigotry about about his appearance. The film beautifully captures his yearning, with sharp, poetic dialog that shifts into pop numbers that may be forgettable but evocatively express thoughts and feelings. As Cyrano says to Christian, "I will make you eloquent, while you make me handsome." Indeed, Roxanne believes Christian is passionate and fiery because of the letters, while she sees Cyrano as coded.

Dinklage is superb as the fiery, stubborn Cyrano, refusing to be sidelined. And his devotion to Roxanne is swoon-worthy. Bennett's Roxanne is just as single-minded, pursuing romance on her own terms, clearly aware of people around her. Harrison gives the likeably dim Christian a hapless charm, especially as the truth finally dawns. And it's unsurprising that Mendelsohn has such a great time as the story's preening villain, snarling deliciously through his own big musical number.

Even as it stays close to the original play, Schmidt's script feels innovative and engaging due, especially as it makes the big themes so remarkably current. The crippling self-doubt within each character is easy to identify with, and Wright adeptly maintains this tension in hushed private conversations as well as on an epic battlefield. The assured and ambitious direction pays off in lush visuals that centre on emotionally open performances as these people become entangled in each others' desires. And it's beautifully played right to the enormous wave of emotion in the final scenes.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 8.Dec.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall