At first glance, the uninitiated might think that Cyrano is a new film or at least a film they’ve never seen before. In reality, it’s based on a play from 1897 that has been made and remade countless times across film, TV, and stage. It was most recently adapted into the 2020 Netflix film, The Half of It. This latest adaptation is based on the 2018 stage musical, is more authentic than some previous versions, and might even be considered one of the best.
Cyrano is loosely based on the real-life exploits of Cyrano de Bergerac, a soldier in the French army. The film takes place in the mid-1600s as it follows Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), a skilled swordsman, favored by his fellow soldiers, and madly in love with his long-time friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Due to his short stature, Cyrano has never expressed his love to Roxanne, but when she falls in love with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at first sight, Cyrano assists his fellow soldier by ghostwriting poetry for him to give to Roxanne.
As a somber musical, the songs in Cyrano are sung from the heart, with many stirring emotions within the audience. They never last too long or overstay their welcome, and each has a purpose that either expresses the emotions of the character singing or moves the plot along. Unlike many other musicals, the song doesn’t make or break Cyrano, they simply complement what’s already there.
The story of Cyrano is moving, but what separates this adaptation apart from the countless others is the nuanced acting from Peter Dinklage. He carries the film on his back, with occasional assistance from Haley Bennett and Ben Mendelsohn (portraying the main antagonist, De Guiche). Other adaptations have set the story in modern times to make it more relatable. Cyrano doesn’t have this issue, thanks almost entirely to Dinklage and Bennett.
Much of the story relies on Christopher being the apple of Roxanne’s eye. He’s not charming, which is why he needs Cyrano’s help. This is Cyrano’s story, but the audience needs to be invested in Christopher for many of the emotional beats to work later in the film. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is not compelling in this role. He comes off as wooden and unlikeable. This could be a directing issue, or perhaps Harrison simply wasn’t inspired since he has been exceptional in much more demanding films such as Luce.
There’s a war set piece late in the film that’s meant to serve as a big emotional turn. Dinklage shines through most of the war scenes, but as a whole, this portion of the film feels awkward and cumbersome. The audience is meant to feel the pain of Cyrano and Christopher, but their interactions lack the finesse to bring out the desired emotional response. The main war scene comes off almost comical in nature thanks in part to a weak build-up, but also Harrison seemingly phoning in his performance.
Luckily, Dinklage is magical throughout the rest of the film, closing it out on a high note of powerful emotion. Some of the issues can be attributed to the changes from the source material to the film. Without seeing the 2018 play, it’s difficult to determine when those changes happened, but they move characters around, changing when and how certain events occur. Some of these changes work in Cyrano’s favor, but others remove entire character arcs from the original play.
In a vacuum, Cyrano is good enough, despite Harrison’s lackluster performance. However, when compared to the 1897 play, it’s difficult to understand why character arcs were changed, especially when it clearly had a negative impact on the film. Thankfully, Peter Dinklage rises to the occasion and almost single-handedly makes up for all of the film’s shortcomings. His performance during the ending alone will make you forget about the poorly written war sequence, saving the film entirely.
Synopsis: Too self-conscious to woo Roxanne himself, wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac helps young Christian nab her heart through love letters.
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Erica Schmidt, Adapted from Cyrano de Bergerac
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Kevin Harrison Jr., Bashir Salahuddin
Runtime: 2 Hours, 4 Minutes
Releases: February 25th, 2022
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.