Image Entertainment // 2008 // 143 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 22nd, 2009
The Nose Knows
Everyone knows the story of Cyrano De Bergerac, they just don't realize it. Seen the version with Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah, retitled Roxanne? That's it. How about any coming-of-age teen comedy where the dorky guy uses the stud to get to the girl of his dreams? Yep, that's a version as well. Edmund Rostand's classic play, a prerequisite in most literature classes from high school through graduate studies, remains a timeless statement of love's infinite blindness and the awkward affairs of the heart. It's been translated into dozens of languages and adaptations, the most famous being the 1950 effort starring Jose Ferrer (for which he received an Academy Award as Best Actor) and a 1990 French take with native nobleman Gerard Depardieu in the lead. Now comes a look at the recent limited-run Broadway revival, starring Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Jennifer Garner (Juno), and Daniel Sunjata (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit). While some might question the obvious updating of the material (this translation is by A Clockwork Orange's Anthony Burgess), one cannot deny the amazing acting prowess on display.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Cyrano (actually based on a real French dramatist and dualist) is in love with his cousin, Roxanne. Sadly, his oversized nose defeats his confidence and keeps him from sharing his true feelings. As luck would have it, the fetching female finally approaches him, but the news is not good. Roxanne is enamored of empty headed soldier Christian. She wants Cyrano to act as matchmaker and set up a rendezvous. Eager to please the love of his life, he reluctantly does so, only to learn that Christian is an inarticulate dolt. "Ghostwriting" most of his poetic come-ons, Cyrano helps his rival woo Roxanne. But as with all amorous misunderstandings, fate steps in to help the big snouted softy get the girl of his dreams. Told in a fanciful, lyrical old-school style and featuring a fine supporting cast including the ageless Chris Sarandon, this Cyrano is sublime in both performance and execution. One would never guess it was written over 110 years ago.
The main draw here is Kline, so convincing as the open-sleeved romantic who can't quite overcome his self-consciousness. Many have questioned the critical acclaim the actor has achieved over the years (including the Oscar he won for Wanda back in '88), but watching him here, it's clear what all the cheering is about. Kline comes off as thoughtful and fun-loving, only remotely visiting the melancholy the narrative infers. He eschews histrionics and over-the-top dramatics for an almost neo-naturalistic take to the material. Sure, there's some swashbuckling, but it's always kept in check. It's an approach aped by Garner, who some would think out of her league here. Very attractive in her period garb and exuding effervescent affection that would make any man want her, she matches her costar note for note. While some may find her too "modern" to play the part, she manages to overcome contemporary comparisons. Rounding out the excellent ensemble is Sunjata. He brings the appropriate amount of clueless hunkiness to the role.
Like the work of Kenneth Branagh in bringing the works of Shakespeare "up to date," director David Leveaux keeps things clean and simple. This is not some elaborate staging, using visuals to overwhelm the text's dated dimensions. Instead, he brings a lightness and an exuberance to the material. It helps that he has great talent tripping the boards, but the main vision remains his. This DVD presentation (the same as seen recently on PBS) is excellent, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image offering excellent color and clarity. This is a video production, with no attempt to transform the picture over to film in post-production, so be prepared for a few issues like flaring and occasional grain. As for the sound, there is an option between a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 and more "open" 5.1 mix. While the channels don't get much of a workout, the broader aural presentation does give you more of the "theatrical" experience. Sadly, Image has decided to release this digital package without a single bonus feature. This is a bare-bones disc in any sense of the term.
For those looking for a fun, inviting evening at the theater -- albeit indirectly -- and a new perspective on a stage standard, this version of Cyrano De Bergerac is guaranteed to please. While it may seem like an artifact from a long lost English class lecture, the truth is that grand art transcends its setting, and this is a clear case of greatness overcoming prior prejudices.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated