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