Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Measure of a Man

Films: Cyrano
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on the kid’s television.

When I first saw that there would be a new version of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, I was intrigued. It’s a hell of a good story, and I’m always a sucker for a sad romance. The story of Cyrano is one of the truly tragic romances. The basic story is that a truly great spirit, guardsman Cyrano de Bergerac, is a true Renaissance man, a warrior poet as gifted with the pen or wordplay as with the sword. But, the story goes, he is cursed with a giant nose, which prevents him from being loved, or so he believes. The twist in 2021’s Cyrano is not that the story has been turned into a musical but that the title character is played by Peter Dinklage.

And that really is the story. We open with one of the classic scenes of the Cyrano story. We are introduced to Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who is both poor and beautiful. She is being wooed—unsuccessfully—by Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), who has a great deal of money to waste on her. He takes her to the theater to see Montfleury (Mark Benton), the most celebrated actor of his day, but the performance is interrupted by Cyrano (Dinklage), who dislikes him intently. While the actor runs off, Valvert (Joshua James) challenges Cyrano to a duel. Cyrano humiliates him, chants at him in rhyme, and eventually runs him through.

Cyrano is desperately in love with Roxanne, who he has known for years. Sadly for him, just before his encounter at the theater, Roxanne has spied a new member of Cyrano’s guard regiment Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and has fallen in love with him immediately (and he with her).

What follows, then, is what makes Cyrano the story it is. Cyrano wants Roxanne’s happiness more than anything, and consents to be Christian’s voice for the purposes of wooing her. He writes letters for Christian, winning her for him despite the fact that Christian, for all of his bravery, is tongue-tied around women. Eventually, De Guiche discovers the love between Christian and Roxanne and sends the guards to the front of the current war, hoping to have Christian killed so that he can claim Roxanne for himself.

There are a couple of things to discuss with this version of Cyrano. This is the third version of the story I have seen on film, fifth if you count the comedy version Roxanne and the Cyrano-esque Megamind. The Jose Ferrer version from 1950 is good—Ferrer makes a convincing de Bergerac even if the adaptation is not my favorite. The Gerard Depardieu film from 1990 is excellent and almost certainly the best pure adaptation of the story. Roxanne, of course, is charming and funny and changes the ending for something far less tragic. But all of these follow the traditional story in giving Cyrano the comically large nose. This version subverts that expectation in an interesting way, giving us a Cyrano with the same warrior-poet heart, but with a vastly different reason to consider himself unworthy of Roxanne’s affections.

It's an interesting choice, and one that I think works pretty well in general. Peter Dinklage is a likeable actor and he’s capable in pretty much any role he undertakes. The story is surprisingly adaptable to him in this respect, and he makes it work very well. He’s believable in the role and pulls off someone with those artistic and romantic sensibilities well. I find it difficult to dislike him in anything he does on screen. In that respect, Cyrano is an interesting and inventive adaptation, and one that is worth seeing.

I am not sold on making this a musical, however. I stand by the basic idea that if someone is going to make a musical, the production should start and end with finding actors who are capable of performing in a musical professionally. For our main cast, that’s not really the case, although Haley Bennett sings well. This is not to say that the other actors can’t carry a tune; they can. But so can I, and I shouldn’t be singing professionally in a musical, either. For my money, the only song that really felt like it added anything to the base story occurs near the end as the guard prepares what will be a suicide mission. That song rings true and adds to the story. The others, in general, are just songs.

I really like this cast a great deal. Oddly, it’s not Peter Dinklage who makes the film for me, but Haley Bennett, who is tremendous in this. While Dinklage is the title character and the movie doesn’t work without him, it also doesn’t work without her—she is what drives the story.

I think I wanted to like this more than I do. I do like it, but it honestly doesn’t come close to Depardieu’s 1990 version of the story, which remains the best one filmed.

That said, I really want to watch Roxanne now.

Final note--I should explain the new entry in how I watched this. I'm housesitting for my daughter for a week, so I've got her television until this coming weekend. A week by myself in an unfamiliar town with a dog who is nervous around me. I have a feeling I'm going to get a lot of use from her television.

Why to watch Cyrano: It’s a hell of a good story.
Why not to watch: Making it a musical didn’t work through the whole movie.


  1. I'm only interested in seeing this mainly for Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett but I haven't really been impressed with the recent films of Joe Wright ever since Pan which I hated.

    1. This is...fine. It doesn't need to be a musical and most of the musical parts of it are pretty forgettable. Dinklage is great, though, and so is Haley Bennett, who is truly lovely.

  2. You're absolutely right about the musical talent. Haley is the only one that I think could hold her own in an actual musical. The rest of the cast, as much as I love them, not so much.

    1. And it's so disappointing! Peter Dinklage is such a great idea of Cyrano, because it's such a great role for him. Just...let him speak instead of sing. He can sing, but he's no great singer and it just pulls the whole production down.