Three years ago the movie world was shocked when Shakespeare in Love robbed favorite Saving Private Ryan of an Oscar. The movie superbly combined drama, comedy, romance, and history into a fantastic piece, and now, in 2001, director John Madden is trying to recreate the magic with Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
The cinematography is beautiful, but the movie is not. It is not horrible, and it is slightly decent, but there are way too many flaws not to notice.
The movie stars Nicolas Cage as Captain Corelli, an Italian officer 'fighting' for Mussolini, Penelope Cruz as a Greek local who falls in love with him, and Christian Bale as her fiancée. These are some big names attached to the project, but the problem is that Academy Award-winning Cage is American, Cruz is Spanish, and Bale is British. Cage is a good actor, but his Italian needs another year of study. While you do get used to it as the movie goes on, you can never stop noticing that he speaks slower and differently from some of the smaller cast members, which are most assuredly real Italians. As for Cruz, her accent hasn't changed a bit (at least not noticeably), so that means that she isn't speaking in a Greek accent, but, of course, that doesn't matter, because the American masses won't know the difference, right? Out of the three, Bale delivers the best performance, but even he is shaky in scenes. I have no problem with actors trying to win kudos with various accents, but Madden should have seen the trouble he was getting in from the get go and gone with a cast that spoke better Italian and Greek, for the sake of the movie. But, of course, you can't just fire Nicolas Cage.
The movie itself, set on a real Greek island, shows off the beauty of the Mediterranean, reminded me of when I went to the area a couple of years ago. The beaches are white, the water is blue, and the foliage is a deep green. Combine scenery with good choreography and you get... the best aspect of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Technically, it is very well done.
As for the story, a lot of people will be disappointed. Maybe it's more realistic, but at the same time it is pretty boring. When I say pretty boring I mean really boring. Just to let you know, Cage and Cruz get very little time to romance, and the rest of the movie belongs to scenes where Cruz is trying to hate Cage, or where the island is being destroyed by Nazi bombers. If Madden is trying to show how innocence is lost or something along those lines, he does a good job, as the small town is turned upside down by WW2. The war scene is fairly well done but also pretty short, but I guess that the actual war is not the focus of the film.
I really don't know what the focus of the film. I read somewhere that the book is a satire, and I see glimpses of satire in the awkward comical scenes, but the purpose of the film never really jumped out at me. Sure, there is the romance between Cage and Cruz, but nothing happens until late into the movie, and then there is a quick wrap-up at the end. The movie maybe is trying to point out that individual soldiers don't care about what they are fighting for, but then again that is only a fraction of the film. It is as if Captain Corelli's Mandolin is an ensemble of several different stories but it never lets one pronounce itself, and so the movie drags on for over two hours.
The acting is bad in terms of accents, but there is some chemistry between Cage and Cruz that was somewhat fascinating to watch. There are moments when the movie really picks up, amidst several boring scenes. So maybe the point is that Captain Corelli's Mandolin should have stopped trying to be an actor's failed vehicle from minute one and become a movie with one obvious story.
I've seen a lot worse than Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but I've definitely seen a lot better, and come Oscar time, this John Madden film is going to see nothing except for maybe a nomination for a technical award or two. That's considering, of course, that 2001 is actually going to present us with a really good drama over the next six months.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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