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Cyrano (2021) – Review

February 12, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade A- – Director Joe Wright and writer Erica Schmidt have created a vibrant and lively musical that features an excellent lead performance from Peter Dinklage. The adaptation of Schmidt’s 2018 musical features a wealth of beautiful moments that will linger in your memory. 

Fueled by flowing musical numbers and a talented cast, Cyrano is an absolute delight and I’m so happy that I watched it without seeing a trailer or knowing much about it aside from that it’s another adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 play written by Edmond Rostand. I found myself hooked immediately by the score and lyrics created by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger and Carin Besser (I’m a big fan of The National), and while there are no absolute belters like the ones featured in West Side Story or In the Heights, the songs and dance choreography create a flowing and lovely mood. Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui incorporates a healthy dose of ballet into the performances and they create a gentle and sensitive environment that are best featured during the Someone to Say (Reprise) and Your Name performances. The music and dancing blend excellently together as the flowing sensual motions of the dancers mirror that of the performers who express longing, hope or unrequited love with their lyrics. There’s nothing aggressive about these moments (when compared to a Baz Luhrman musical), and instead they create a dreamlike and sensitive world that will come crashing down as the movie progresses. 

After Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna, Pan, and Anna Karenina, Joe Wright is no stranger to films that feature tragedy, music and violence. With Cyrano, Wright has taken the best elements of his prior films, blended them up, and made another solid movie. What’s nice is that he’s dialed down the Pan theatrics (no Nirvana covers here), and not recreated the single soundstage look of Anna Karenina, instead, he’s continued his trend of excellently staged shots that incorporate long takes, many extras, and in the case of Cyrano, an overhead shot of the Maniance Castle that made me say “whoa.”

What makes Cyrano work so well are the performances from Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn. After watching the film I was convinced that Dinklage was a lock for an Oscar nomination, as he dominates the screen and owns every song, monologue and sword fight. He clearly fine-tuned his performance during the 2018 run, and under the watchful eye of Wright, has been given a showcase role that he owns. His performance as Cyrano is equal parts boisterous and self-conscious as he can slay with words, but feels inadequate when it comes to being loved by his long-time friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who is in love with the traditionally handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). This makes things awkward as he’s asked to watch over Christian who has recently joined his military unit, and he eventually attempts to bring them together by writing letters for Roxanne and claiming they are from the tongue-tied Christian. The results are tragic, but the journey is worth taking because of the magnetic Dinklage.

Wright also made a smart move by bringing in Haley Bennett (who was in the 2018 play) and Kelvin Harrison Jr., who made a name for themselves in solid movies like Waves, Swallow and Luce. In an interesting move, Harrison Jr. based his performance as Christian on Peter Sellers from Being There, and the end result is dripping with earnestness and sincerity. His performance during Someone to Say (Reprise) is a highlight of the movie, as he’s surrounded by a troupe of ballet dancers and framed excellently by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (who also shot Atonement, Anna Karenina, and Pan for Wright). 

The personal highlight for me is the appearance of musician Glen Hansard, who won an Academy Award in 2008 for the song “Falling Slowly” (Once is one of my all-time favorite movies). He pops up during one of the climatic final musical numbers, and words can’t express how happy it made me to see him performing in another mainstream musical. 

Final thoughts: I had a wonderful time watching Cyrano, and I can’t wait to listen to the soundtrack on repeat.

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