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The story of 'Cyrano' is still worth telling

cyrano2.jpeg
Peter Mountain
/
mgm.com
Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett in 'Cyrano'

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is such a good story that even with at least two dozen movies either directly adapted from or inspired by the play, it’s still worth telling, especially if you can bring something new to the Cyrano table.

A stage musical from a few years ago starring the great Peter Dinklage, and created by his wife, Erica Schmidt, has now been brought to the screen with the title Cyrano, written by Schmidt with music by three members of the rock group The National. This version also stars Dinklage, who’s probably best known as Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but who’s been fantastic for decades. The story is generally the one you know, as the brash wordsmith and swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac hides his love from Roxanne, believing she could never love someone who looks like him—in this case because of his dwarfism rather than an extremely large nose. When Roxanne falls in love with another man who doesn’t have Cyrano’s talent with words, our hero endeavors to help him by writing letters to Roxanne pretending to be her new love, a ruse through which Cyrano can also secretly express his own true feelings.

This is all romantic and sad and passionate enough, but this movie is also directed by Joe Wright, who made the swooning 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and is one of our true “damn the torpedoes” directors. He can occasionally fly too close to the sun, but still, he can fly. And he’s a perfect match with the music, because the director and the musicians elevate each other, but also temper their more extreme elements—The National is an innovative group that can make you feel as if you’re going to explode with suppressed emotion, but their sound is often a melancholy dirge. That emotion is here, but with Wright’s zeal it feels more immediate, more out in the open. And while there are some overheated scenes Wright gives us that look for all the world like a George Michael music video circa 1990, we buy into it because of the music—or, at least, they set us up for some intensely moving sequences later on.

And then we have Peter Dinklage. It seems there’s nothing the man can’t do, as he sings, sword fights, and runs through Schmidt’s clever wordplay as if he were born saying it. But it’s his beautifully expressive face that takes this to one of the truly great performances of recent years. He has perfect control over every muscle—few people can convey such feeling with a single movement at the top of their cheek. Through his face, we see every tiny dagger of disappointment and pain, and we know this is what Cyrano has felt his entire life. All that feeling is right there, held back, ready to explode, and the tragedy in this story is that it never does.

Cyrano is in theaters February 25th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.