Captain Corelli's Mandolin

            Take a well-reviewed novel about a wartime romance, add stars,
    a name director and you should have the recipe for a successful motion
    picture like the Oscar-winning epic
THE ENGLISH PATIENT, right? Well,
    in the case of
CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, that, sadly, is not the case.
    Whereas Anthony Minghella did a masterful job in adapting Michael
    Ondaatje's complex novel for the screen, Shawn Slovo's efforts are merely
    adequate. By streamlining Louis de Bernieres' novel
Corelli's Mandolin for
    the screen, Slovo has captured merely the basics of the story and omitted
    many crucial aspects. One glaring example would be that the sexual
    orientation of a character isn't mentioned, which robs his on screen actions
    of their poignancy and importance. Other key points were altered in
    the interest of screen time and dramatic license, but without the desired
    success.

            Admittedly, de Bernieres' fiction of a wartime romance between
    an Italian soldier and a Greek woman set against an atrocity would not
    lend itself easily to a film adaptation. The novel utilizes multiple narrators
    and points of view, and spans some fifty years.
Corelli's Mandolin might
    have fared better as a television miniseries. Instead, it has been
    shepherded into a feature film by director Roger Michell. Unfortunately,
    he was unable to complete the project due to ill health. (He reportedly
    suffered a mild heart attack just before pre-production.) Assuming
    the reins was John Madden, the Oscar-nominated helmer of
    
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE whose other film efforts, from the rather bland
    adaptation of
ETHAN FROME to the flawed, if well-acted MRS. BROWN,
      hardly marked him as the man who could pull off this complex effort.
    Madden does what can with the material, but the script and several
    ill-advised casting choices have doomed this film.

            Perhaps it would be best to first mention what the film does
    get right: the superb cinematography of Oscar-winner John Toll captures
    the pristine beauty of the Greek isle of Cephallonia, Stephen Warbeck's
    lush musical score, and the acting turns of veterans John Hurt (although
    his Greek accent waivers a bit) and Irene Papas. Christian Bale cuts
    a handsome and dashing figure as Mandras, the illiterate Greek fisherman
    turned resistance fighter and adds spark to his role, which has been
    significantly changed from the novel.

            The other principals, however, are miscast. Nicolas Cage can be
    an interesting performer when given strong material, but as Captain
    Antonio Corelli, he is reduced to a caricature, a stereotype of the good
    Italian soldier, who gets drunk, enjoys singing and clearly would
    prefer to be anywhere else. Indeed, Corelli and his men here seem
    to have stepped out of the Oscar-winning foreign film
MEDITERRANEO.
    Over the course of the film, Cage's accent doesn't grate as much as it
    does in the trailer or film clips, but he seems too contemporary and
    reserved to be the life-loving figure depicted in de Bernieres' novel.

            Penélope Cruz is one of those actresses like Cate Blanchett who can
     look plain or ravishing depending on the lighting and camera angle, and
     that occurs in this film. In her Spanish-language performances, the actress
     has proven her range and versatility. In the handful of English-speaking
     roles, though, she has proven less effective. While she tries to project a
     smoldering intensity, Cruz has rarely connected on screen with any of her
     leading men (from Billy Crudup in
THE HI-LO COUNTRY to Johnny Depp
     in
BLOW to Matt Damon in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES.) The same occurs
     here; she and Bale throw off minor sparks, but her character is not
     meant to be fully in love with his. Cruz has zero chemistry with Cage
     and as theirs is the film's central love story, that lack destroys the
     underpinnings of the film.

                                     


                                     Rating:             C
                                     MPAA Rating:     R
                                     Running time:    127 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.