Film reviews: Cyrano | The Duke | The Mif

Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage in Cyrano PIC :: Peter Mountain / © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

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Cyrano de Bergerac’s latest big-screen adaptation sees Peter Dinklage reprise the role of the amorous eponymous blacksmith he first played in a stage musical adaptation in 2018. This version, featuring songs by rock band The National , was conceived by Dinklage’s wife, playwright and theater director Erica Schmidt. The new film, also written by Schmidt and simply titled Cyrano, is an adaptation of this reimagining, albeit filtered through the wayward sensibility of Joe Wright (Darkest Hour), who in turn plays his own partner Haley Bennett as Cyrano’s love object Roxanne (Bennett actually played Roxanne in the original stage production but was replaced when it moved off Broadway in 2019). As such, it’s about who thinks who the real star is. Schmidt’s script feeds Dinklage the character’s best lines and tragic arc; Wright’s swooning camera moves work over time to make Bennett the center of the universe. In the end, however, Dinklage’s verbal sparring and emotional turmoil prove far more engaging than Bennett’s lavish snaps shot up to the nines in period finery.

Maybe that’s how it should be. Edmond Rostand’s highly adapted play is, after all, a fable about seeing beyond the surface of things in matters of the heart and Dinklage is certainly an inspired cast in that respect. In this version, Cyrano’s physical stature and pride, rather than the size of his nose, prevent him from declaring his love to Roxanne and the mere fact of placing the Game of Thrones star in a context where his bravado and his overweening charisma are undermined by crippling insecurity. about his appearance gives this take a rawer emotional core, one that Dinklage – one of the most expressive actors around – ensures burns with every close-up. This is also reflected in certain musical numbers. There’s an unmistakable Hamilton vibe to the verbal duels Cyrano engages in and Dinklage’s baritone drawl suits The National’s grand take on musical theater traditions perfectly. Elsewhere, however, Wright directs showtunes as if shooting a music video from the 1980s (one involves a montage of love letters raining down on its protagonists). Too rarely does the music emerge organically from the drama.

The film also struggles to flesh out the complexities of Roxanne. Her relentless pursuit by the obnoxious Colonel De Guiche (a suitably obnoxious Ben Mendholson) lands her in a gruesome stalemate, but her crush on Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr), the handsome but clueless soldier whose Cyrano love letters ghost-written, never feels convincing. Bennett’s big number I Need More, a song of desperation designed to ease the room’s famous balcony scene, sounds more like a petulant customer complaint from someone with a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

It doesn’t help that Schmidt and Wright unnecessarily cling to a backstory that places the origins of Roxanne and Cyrano’s friendship (and the latter’s longing) in childhood. We really can’t hide the fact that Dinklage is almost 20 years older than Bennett, so when they reference their longtime bond, it’s kind of creepy. But maybe that’s also the point. This is a story in which a woman is targeted by three deceitful men and unrequited love takes on the unhealthy characteristics of addiction. In his clumsy way, Cyrano comes up against a much less comforting truth than love conquers all.

The Duke PIC: Nick Wall

Directed by the late Roger Michell, The Duke finds the mercurial director working in the same comfortably scintillating style that made the likes of Notting Hill and Venus so easy to watch. Based on a bizarre true story, it stars Jim Broadbent as Kenton Bunton, an aging taxi driver from Geordie who, in 1961, was accused of stealing a Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the wall of the National Gallery.

“The National Treasure Steals the National Treasure” might just be the movie’s shorthand given the extent to which it relies on Broadbent’s charm to make the pompous Bunton appealing. A self-taught crusader convinced he is the next Shakespeare, Kempton’s admirable determination never to betray his political or artistic principles is only made possible by his long-suffering wife’s willingness to scrub the floors to maintain the family afloat (it is played with weary resignation by Helen Mirren). This is the cozy version of the story, however, not a slice of kitchen sink realism, so Kempton’s Robin Hood plan to buy back the stolen paint to fund free TV licenses for retirees instead becomes a way to gently poke fun at the establishment. The end result is a pleasantly polished bit of whimsy, with a sneaky twist ending.

French street slang for ‘family’, the title of The Mif is appropriate for this hard-hitting social realism tale built around the fractured bonds that a group of vulnerable teenage girls in care form with each other and with their social workers. An ensemble piece, the film is divided into chapters, each following a different character, but always returning to a key moment – a subtle way of reinforcing how patterns of abuse and behavior repeat themselves. Gradually, however, the film also reveals itself to be a complex portrayal of Lora (Claudia Grob), the veteran nursing home manager whose own life seems to be spiraling out of control. Director Fred Baillif (a former social worker) gets vibrant performances from his young cast, but it’s Grob’s turn as Lora holds it all together.

All films in theaters from February 25

Mif PIC: BFI Distribution

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