Cyrano is an excellent film, one that fans of Peter Dinklage will hail as perhaps his best performance yet. Beyond his acting – which may just see him hoist the Oscar in 2022 – lies an amazingly-done musical romantic drama. Cyrano will tug at your heartstrings, and make you fully invest yourselves in the lives, and loves, of this wonderful cast of characters.
The film quickly introduces us to our main cast of characters, and establishing their main traits with a fairly efficient and well-crafted ‘show, don’t tell’ approach: Hayley Bennett’s Roxanne remains upbeat, optimistic, witty – despite her stern maid’s warnings of her waning fortunes; Ben Mendelsohn’s De Guiche meets our expectations of his described personality – pompous, arrogant, and fairly repulsive; Kelvin Harrison Jr’s Christian finds himself immediately besotted with Roxanne – at the expense of a pickpocket taking advantage of his lack of situational awareness to relieve him of his purse. Our last main character introduced is the titular Cyrano, and Peter Dinklage immediately establishes his domineering screen presence. We don’t see him at first, as he throws his voice around a crowded theatre, threatening a respected stage actor with whom he had taken issue with in the recent past.
The camerawork and sound editing in this scene is phenomenal – with just a few simple zooms into dimly lit patches of audience, close-up reaction shots of the increasingly terrified actor Montfleury, and Cyrano’s almost omni-directional voice, Cyrano is given an aura of mystery, almost more a Batman-type legendary figure then a man. Just as we hit the apex of tension, we see Cyrano for the first time; and the final nail is driven in, the audience becomes instantly aware of all the elements of Cyrano’s outward-facing personality.
Full of bravado, striking fear into the hearts of others – here is a man whose reputation is literally larger than life, defying the expectations of the society of his time due to his dwarfism, going even further to far exceed the ability of any of his peers. His entrance to the room paralyses the audience – and for the other audience, on the other side of the fourth wall – lets us know that we’re in for nothing less than one of Peter Dinklage’s all-time great performances.
As the film’s plot progresses, we’re treated to two excellent scenes of action choreography, as well as the further development of Cyrano and Roxanne’s characters. Dinklage effortlessly humanises Cyrano, with nothing more than a lingering side-long glance at Roxanne, in a moment of distraction during a swordfight with one of De Guiche’s cronies. Hayley Bennett brings the other half of this encounter, portraying a nervous energy at the possibility of Cyrano being harmed, contextualising their relationship while Dinklage adds a clear, one-sided undercurrent of unrequited love. We’re told as much a few minutes later, as Cyrano delivers his thoughts and feelings both to camera his friend, Le Bret, in the form of a touching musical monologue that finishes our introduction to the titular character: not even thirty minutes in, and already Cyrano de Bergerac is a fully-realised character – we see both the façade of bravado and panache, the superman he presents himself as; and the insecurity, vulnerability, and desires of the flawed human underneath.
The opportunity for him to live out these desires, using a mouthpiece to express his love in the form of newly recruited guard Christian, with whom Roxanne confesses to have fallen in love at first sight. Scene after scene we are treated to Roxanne falling more and more in love with Christian’s soul and personality, expressed in the form of letters secretly written by Cyrano, but signed and delivered in Christian’s name. Scene after scene, we see Cyrano live out the tragic, bittersweet reality of watching the woman he loves love another, made both better and worse because it’s his very words causing it.
My only issue with the film is its final sequence. Cyrano does an excellent job building rising tension: Mendelsohn’s De Guiche poses a continuous underlying threat to our trio of protagonists, exuding an intimidating persona of power and privilege, putting plots into motion from which the characters always only just escape; Cyrano’s ploy to bring Christian and Roxanne together builds and builds as time goes on – culminating in De Guiche’s decision to send Cyrano and Christian’s regiment of guards on a suicide mission, to finally rid himself of them for their slights against him; as well as Christian’s inevitable realisation of Cyrano’s love for Roxanne, just as Roxanne expresses to Christian through letter that she loves him for his personality, and would love him still even if he came back from war disfigured or maimed. This scene takes place right after a strongly emotional musical number, giving us a look into the lives of three unnamed soldiers in their regiment, singing about their lives, their loved ones, and handing over their final letters, fully expecting to die in the coming battle. Christian encourages Cyrano to tell Roxanne that it was him writing the letters, realising Roxanne can never truly love him as she would love Cyrano. He’s shot dead by the enemy, and Cyrano himself is wounded in action – but we’re treated to a several-year time skip immediately after this climax.
Cyrano is long-suffering due to his wound. On death’s door, he finally confesses to Roxanne a few minutes before he finally dies, as she reveals she’s always loved him just as he did her. It feels jarring, and for me personally, was incredibly abrupt. However, I can’t fully criticise the film for this – it’s entirely part of the source material, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, except that contains a fifteen year time skip, and Cyrano was mortally wounded by a log being dropped on his head. Comparatively, the film’s version of events isn’t ridiculous at all, and Cyrano’s inability to confess his love and letter-writing is well in line with the portrayal of his character thus far, and a scene is thrown in showing Cyrano alone in his room, writing a new letter confessing himself to Roxanne. A wider shot reveals the room’s plastered in hundreds of discarded letters – presumably several years of the normally verbose poet’s attempts to find the right words. It bears the marks of attempting to fix this issue by mostly adapting it out, but it doesn’t go quite far enough for me.
To conclude, Cyrano is a truly great film, and credit has to go to an excellent adaptation by director Joe Wright and writer Erica Schmidt. It’s well-shot, well-written, and the performances will truly astound you, with special credit going of course to Peter Dinklage, who shines even amongst the excellent work done by Hayley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Ben Mendelsohn. It’s an actor vehicle of a film, and while there’s no finer driver than Dinklage, worthy congratulations go to the people who built that vehicle for him – the crew excels in their roles, from camera and sound, sets and costuming, choreography, writing and direction, this is truly a well-oiled machine, uplifting the cast and letting them act their hearts out on the shoulders of giants. If you can see Cyrano do so, and if you’re a voting member of the Academy, give Dinklage the Oscar.