(CNN)“Cyrano de Bergerac” has been the model of a tragic love triangle for 125 years, often imitated but seldom equaled. The play turned movie under many different guises now adds a film version of the musical, “Cyrano,” which provides a fine showcase for Peter Dinklage in a different take on the tortured hero but doesn’t hit enough high notes to distinguish its unstained plume.
Dinklage trades in the customary prosthetic nose for his stature, which provides the impediment here to expressing his love for his cousin Roxanne (Haley Bennett), whose fondness for him is strictly platonic.
But of course, Roxanne has fallen for the handsome Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who despite his striking features lacks confidence or style when it comes to the art of romance. The awkward solution is for Cyrano to write to her (and in the famous balcony scene, speak for him), expressing his love for Roxanne without revealing the source or his true feelings.
It’s a hard story to screw up, and director Joe Wright (“Atonement,” and more recently “Darkest Hour”) doesn’t. But the musical flourishes work at best fitfully, in part because of the mediocrity of the songs, and in part because of those performing them, who are generally on firmer ground during the spoken dramatic interludes.
Indeed, Dinklage’s speaking voice is a well-tuned instrument without resorting to song, and the Emmy-winning “Game of Thrones” star brings a genuine pathos to Cyrano’s plight to go with the humor and swashbuckling associated with the role.
That said, he joins very good, expectations-raising cinematic company in bringing this character to the screen, including Jose Ferrer’s Oscar-winning (and in terms of screen depictions, standard-setting) 1950 portrayal and Gerard Depardieu in a French version four decades later. And of course, that doesn’t mention all the variations on the theme, a la “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin; or Netflix’s recent teen versions “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “The Half Of It.”
Like many recent releases, “Cyrano” has followed a circuitous path to the screen. The movie received an Oscar-qualifying run — its lone nomination coming for costume design — then had its official release delayed due to the Omicron variant. It thus arrives later and with less fanfare than the producers clearly hoped.
Thanks to the cast (which also includes Ben Mendelsohn, near-unrecognizable as the villainous De Guiche), “Cyrano” is worth seeing, either now or later. But it’s a relatively modest addition to the title’s storied history, one where the music subtracts at least as much as it adds to the story’s inherent poetry.
“Cyrano” premieres in select US theaters on Feb. 25. It’s rated PG-13.