If you’re an Indian and know nothing about the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, there’s a good chance that you’ll think that Cyrano (2022) feels very similar to Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002). Yes, the Bollywood movie was directed by Kunal Kohli and starring Hrithik Roshan, Rani Mukerji, and Kareena Kapoor Khan. You’ll feel some shame. Which you should because no one should be that media illiterate. But don’t feel too ashamed because Mujhse Dosti Karoge is “based” on The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996), which is apparently a reinterpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac. So, in a roundabout way, the comparisons are understandable. However, that’s where the parallels end because Cyrano is aeons ahead of Mujhse Dosti Karoge and a lot of musicals that have been released in the past decade.
Cyrano is directed by Joe Wright and written by Erica Schmidt. It follows Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage), a gifted poet and the head of De Guiche’s (Ben Mendelsohn) army of guards. Cyrano is in love with his childhood friend Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who is supposed to be married off to De Guiche for personal and financial reasons. As Cyrano pines for Roxanne, she falls in love with another man named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Christian falls head over heels for Roxanne.
Cyrano understands that Roxanne will never love him because of his social status and physical appearance. So, he not only relays Roxanne’s feelings to Christian but also writes love letters to Roxanne pretending to be Christian. But the situation gets complicated when Roxanne and Christian finally meet and she realises that Christian doesn’t exactly talk as eloquently as he writes. And that’s of course followed by loss, heartbreak, revenge, and more.
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Like the play (and unlike most of the cinematic adaptations of the play), Wright and Schmidt heavily focus on Cyrano’s inability to express his love to Roxanne largely since he’s vertically challenged. They don’t pull back any punches while showing the kind of mental toll society can inflict on a person over something they’ve no control over.
The movie delves into the topic of inner beauty versus physical beauty, and how hypocritical humans are when it comes to admitting which one they prefer. Through De Guiche and Roxanne’s relationship, it observes the issue of women being viewed as object that men want to acquire. De Guiche’s entire arc pokes at the weaknesses of so-called strong men. But most importantly, Cyrano (the movie) is about conveying one’s feelings, which can range from romantic to familial love, at the opportune moment before it’s too late and all you’re left with is regret.
By now you must’ve figured out that that’s a story and those are themes that have been explored and re-explored thousands of times in the last hundred years. So, what’s so special about this adaptation of Cyrano? Well, it’s an audio-visual masterclass that elevates the written material to the next level. If you forget about everything else and just focus on the character introductions, you’ll notice how beautifully they’re handled. Bringing back the Bollywood connection again for a moment to make a point.
Hindi movies are all about over-the-top character introductions. Some movies go so overboard with it that they introduce a character multiple times. That’s why it’s impossible to not have a hatred for that form of writing after watching Bollywood movies do that repetitively. However, when Wright does the same in Cyrano, you won’t be able to help but fall in love with the enigmatic and dynamic intros to Cyrano, Roxanne, Christian, and even De Guiche.
The credit for how Cyrano moves, sounds, and looks can’t go to Wright alone, of course. The music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner is absolutely brilliant. If you have never watched a musical and you want to start somewhere, start with Cyrano. The songs are the right balance of poetic and conversational to make you fall in love with the genre. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is amazing. The way he shoots and lights urban environments is as goosebumps-inducing as his portrayal of the bleak mountaintops where a war is taking place. Sarah Greenwood’s production design, Katie Spencer’s set design, Elaine Kusmishko and Gianpaolo Rifino’s art direction, and Massimo Cantini Parrini’s costume design are fantastic. The choreographies for the song-and-dance sequences are hypnotic. And it’s the collaborative effort of all these departments (under the guidance of Wright) that makes each of them pop out and function as a whole too.
A special tip of the hat should go to the actors because at the end of the day it’s their faces that are on display. Starting with Haley Bennett who will really take your breath away. She has always felt like a very under-appreciated actor despite giving such amazing performances all the time. But since this is truly a career highlight for Haley, Hollywood (or any other film industry for that matter) should reciprocate her contribution to the world of entertainment by giving her layered, complex, and meaty roles such as Roxanne.
Next up is Ben Mendelsohn who is eerily consistent when it comes to playing bad guys. And with De Guiche, he proves yet again that there’s no one better than him to take on these roles. Kelvin Harrison Jr. holds his own amongst these acting juggernauts, effectively portraying the flaws and strengths of Christian. However, Cyrano is a Peter Dinklage show, which just knocks it out of the park in style. It’s quite expected of him to nail his dramatic as well as singing scenes. That said, ready your jaw for his action scenes because it is going to hit the floor as soon as he launches himself into a fight sequence. In all honesty, Cyrano features some of the best swordplay put to screen, period.
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So, to make it clear, Cyrano is one of the best movies of the year. It’s certainly a return to form for Wright after 2021’s The Woman in the Window (even though Wright has a habit of alternating between great and abysmal projects). The movie is crafted to such an insane level of perfection, with every department firing on all cylinders that you’ll be sucked into its world immediately. The performances are glorious, with Peter Dinklage acting his heart out (while making a case for casting him in action-heavy roles). Therefore, if it’s safe to watch on the big screen, please do so because it’ll surely knock your socks off. If it’s not safe to go outside, please mark the date for when it arrives on digital and watch it with the volume cranked up to eleven. But, for the love of the thing that you consider holy, do not miss Cyrano.
Cyrano is scheduled to release in the USA on January 28 and in the United Kingdom on February 25.