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Review: Peter Dinklage impresses in 'Cyrano,' despite the writing lacking


A review now of a movie musical based on a stage classic. It has romance, a balcony scene, lots of fighting. And no, it's not "West Side Story" or "Romeo And Juliet," for that matter. It's "Cyrano," starring Peter Dinklage. Critic Bob Mondello says Dinklage is fresh from "Game Of Thrones" and ready to croon.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Seventeenth century Paris - the creme de la creme arriving at a theater to see a hugely popular actor who is not popular with our hero.


BEN MENDELSOHN: (As Montfleury) When the soft wind whistles, wishing me...

PETER DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) Montfleury, what are you doing here?

MENDELSOHN: (As Montfleury) Cyrano?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yes.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) After your performance last week, I sent you a letter urging you to retire.

MONDELLO: Cyrano's just a voice at first, shouting from the balcony in verse at the versifying actor.


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) I'm sorry, but you lie.

MONDELLO: Quite a theatrical entrance for Peter Dinklage.


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) You've made this stage your personal stye. The dramatic muse has fled the building. She scampered off when you started gilding the lily with your great, big voice.

MONDELLO: Interesting choice. Usually with verse, the idea is to make it conversational, not lean into rhymes. But give Dinklage his entrance, which is - let's note - unusual for other reasons. If you know anything at all about Cyrano, you know he's a poet, a swordsman, and he has a big nose. The nose is usually his defining trait, one that he figures wrongly...


JOSHUA JAMES: (As Valvert) You're a freak.

MONDELLO: ...Disqualifies him for romance.


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) The insult is antique, but I accept it.

MCCAMMON: This version, which was tailored for its 4-foot-5 star by his wife, Erica Schmidt, trades big of nose for short of stature, a switch that forces her to get rid of the bit where Cyrano demolishes a fencing opponent while preempting every conceivable nose joke by saying it himself. Still, the basics work. Give him 10 men to fight, and he's there. Give him a beautiful woman, say Hayley Bennett's Roxane.


HALEY BENNETT: (As Roxane, singing) I need something to die for, write poems and cry for.

MONDELLO: And before he starts, he's vanquished.


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) My sole purpose on this earth is to love Roxane.

BASHIR SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) Does she know?

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) Oh, someone like me supposing to love perfection? No, if I confessed, she'd never see me again.

SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) You don't have a very high opinion of her.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano De Bergerac) What? She's the Alps.

SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) No, but you don't think she has the depth to look beyond your...

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) Careful.

SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) ...Unique physique.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) Not bad.

SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) Thank you.

MONDELLO: Which brings us to the music, which crops up to mostly minor effect. Dinklage sounds a bit like Leonard Cohen.


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano, singing) I've held my breath since I saw her. I've tried to look away, but I can't resist.

MONDELLO: Roxane sings more prettily. The problem is that while she adores poetry, which Cyrano can give her, she only has eyes for a handsome lug in his regiment named Christian, who can barely put two words together. When Christian learns Roxane wants a letter from him, he panics.

KELVIN HARRISON JR: (As Christian) But I have no wit.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) Borrow mine.

MONDELLO: Cyrano writes for him, which works until Christian, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., speaks to Roxane in person and proves tongue-tied. So new solution - Christian stands in the shadows below Roxane's balcony and Cyrano supplies his words.


HARRISON: (As Christian) My true love has never stopped growing in my soul.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) From the day it was born there.

HARRISON: (As Christian) From the day it was born.

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) There.

HARRISON: (As Christian) There.

MONDELLO: This is, after "Romeo And Juliet," the second most famous balcony scene in all of dramatic literature, famous for the moment where Cyrano takes over in mid-scene...


BENNETT: (As Roxane) Why is your voice an octave lower?

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano) I'm daring to be myself.

MONDELLO: ...And under cover of darkness, ravishes the woman he loves with poetry, mad armfuls of words, except here, those mad armfuls become...


DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano, singing) The way I feel is like falling stars diving into cold ocean waves.

MONDELLO: Deflating much? Getting rid of the leading man's prosthetic nose is one thing, but getting rid of the exhilarating poetry in a story about folks who are poetry-besotted? Director Joe Wright tries to compensate by ornamenting the story with elaborate sets and costumes and sort of random choreography. At one point, Christian leads his regiment in what amounts to a Busby Berkeley routine.


HARRISON: (As Christian) I'd give anything for someone to say to her.

MONDELLO: But the wind goes out of "Cyrano" the musical when the balcony scene fizzles. And it never really recovers, none of which diminishes Dinklage's star power. He's heroic in sword fights, dashing, persuasively heartsick, just generally terrific as a romantic lead. It's the film's writing that comes up short. I'm Bob Mondello.


Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

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