Wartime Romance Almost Works
When two people from opposing sides of a war fall in love, they face extraordinary obstacles, no matter the time or place. In Captain Corelliís Mandolin, Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz co-star as lovers caught in the crossfire between Greek patriots and Italian soldiers on the island of Cephallonia during WW II. Although I found Cage completely endearing as the musical Italian captain, it was hard to believe his character could develop such strong feelings for the pouty, unpleasant woman played by Cruz.
In the interest of full disclosure, my objectivity where Cruz (All the Pretty Horses) is concerned deserves scrutiny. Iíve yet to see her give a convincing performance. Her whiney voice irritates me, and I marvel that it has only two inflections --- soft and loud. Even Cruzís so-called physical charms escape me. She looks like a little drowned rat during most of her scenes here. One exception --- she glows in a tango dance sequence. Smiling and dynamic as she teases the crowd with her seductive footwork, Cruz took me completely by surprise. Maybe this popular Spanish actress has been miscast in American films and should be taking roles in other types of flicks. (Wonder how she would be as Carmen Miranda in a splashy biopic musical?)
With the beauty of a well-filmed travelogue, Captain Corelliís Mandolin makes the most of its gorgeous settings. Although the story takes place primarily in the capital city of Argostoli, it wasnít possible to film there because an earthquake destroyed the town in 1953. Instead, filmmakers settled on Sami, a smaller village with a deep water port and nearby lush scenery. Cinematographer John Toll (Oscar-winner for Braveheart) thought the islandís beauty might be a problem, so he worked on creating visuals that were not "overly sentimental or glossy." The stunning look of this film took my breath away and overcame its shortcomings for me.
Still, besides Cruzís annoying performance, a couple of other problems stand out. The last part of the film drags a bit. Director John Madden (Oscar-nominee for Shakespeare in Love) could have tightened up the ending sequences. I didnít appreciate the lengthy letter-writing narrative by Cruzís physician father, played brilliantly up to that point by John Hurt (Oscar-nominee for The Elephant Man). It seemed to break the dramatic flow needed for closure. And I wanted to see more of the great Greek actress, Irene Papas (Zorba, the Greek), who portrayed the mother of a freedom fighter (the mesmerizing Christian Bale from American Psycho) engaged to Cruzís character. Sheís as impressive and fiery as ever, especially when smoldering at Cruz while peeling potatoes during a very tense moment between the two women.
I havenít read Louis de Bernieresí novel about Captain Corelli, so I donít know which dialogue comes from screenwriter Shawn Slovo (A World Apart) or from the original author. Whoever is responsible for so many memorable lines earns my admiration. For example, "Falling in love is like a temporary madness, but love itself is whatís left over after the temporary madness has burned away," Cruzís father tells her. He also advises one of his patients, "If you love your wife, then when she has a chill, put a shawl around her shoulders, and when you come back from the fields bring her a flower every day." And an Italian soldier chastises a German captain with "Sometimes itís better to lose than have so much blood on your hands."
Although Cageís Italian accent is somewhat off-putting at first, he settles into the role of a soldier trapped in a war he doesnít believe in with conviction and sensitivity. I loved watching him play the mandolin. He seemed to feel the music in his soul. "I have no musical ability to speak of, no training," Cage (Oscar-winner for Leaving Las Vegas) admits. He claims his approach was to attack and conquer the skill by constant practice. He certainly succeeded. Gageís mandolin numbers almost brought me to tears, they were so lovely and romantic. Aha! Now I realize what should have been done with this film. It cries out to be a musical.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "R" for violence, sexuality, and language.)