Retro Review: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

A sweeping saga, a highly respected novel, two attractive stars, and an Academy Award nominated director are the ingredients that make up Universal’s epic romance, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”.

Sounds like a lock for audiences and the critics, or is it?

The epic romance begins in a small village in Greece. The village fills a small island and seems to be unaffected as the Second World War explodes on the mainland. A doctor (John Hurt) and his daughter, Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), watch as their local townspeople start to send their young men to fight in the war. Among those men is Mandras (Christian Bale) who happens to be engaged Pelagia.

Mandras disappears from Pelagia’s life, as he never writes during his time abroad. Soon the island is over-run by Italian soldiers who swear they have are not there to hurt the townsfolk. Instead they are there to protect the island. The town never falls for the Italian propaganda but instead shows much resistance. Pelagia and her father are forced to accommodate Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage).

There is a lot of friction between the Captain and Pelagia as the war continues. The more Pelagia gets to know Corelli she starts to see a different man than she has ever known before. Where does Pelagia’s allegiance and loyalty lie? What is the real reason for Italian presence on the island?

“Mandolin” comes off as a tender love story and does a lot to overcome a lot of problems surrounding the production. The obvious flaw is the miscasting of Nicolas Cage as Corelli. Cage’s accent comes off as bad as Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood (oh yeah, he didn’t have an accent in there did he?). Corelli’s smoldering good looks and musical charm could have been better accommodated with an actor like an Antonio Banderas, or a Benjamin Bratt. Cage’s accent grows on you but really is never at home with his mannerisms. He looks very awkward playing the small mandolin as his huge arms cradle the little instrument. It’s like a hulk of a mechanic trying to strike a harp.

Penelope Cruz is slowly adjusting to American filmmaking, as her performance is a lot more natural and relaxed compared to the way she was in “All the Pretty Horses”. Cruz has a unique and almost innocent beauty, which really brings a lot to the secluded Pelagia. The scenes where she says little really are interesting to watch. She says a lot with just a look.

One of the more interesting performances is that of Christian Bale, who really grasps his Greek character with confidence and out acts Cage on many occasions. I really liked Bale and its glad to see “American Psycho” has brought him to Hollywood’s attention after so many years. Well since “Newsies” any ways.

My favorite scene is between the doctor and his daughter where he has a brilliant and tender soliloquy about love and what it means to our lives. He talks about how you will know when you have found the one. This beautiful scene gives us a glimpse at what the novel must have reflected to its readers and what the film is trying to do. It’s a shame the scene will be lost in this romantic mess.

The best part of the film is the second half as the true nature of the story really unfolds. It’s to bad the front half will probably put you to sleep. The only puzzling element about the second half is the “earthquake”? Why was it necessary? I am not really spoiling anything by talking about it because it has absolutely no purpose to the story or the characters. It’s just there. Maybe it is more relevant in the novel.

Aside from the tenderness of Penelope’s quiet scenes, Mandras and the beautiful locale, Corelli has nothing else to offer. I can’t say that I recommend Corelli but it may be worth a look on DVD. As long as there isn’t a 4-hour version of this film on the “Corelli” deluxe edition DVD.

(3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

  1. Nicholas Cage’s HORRENDOUS Italian accent killed this movie for me. Haven’t been able to watch it since without spending the whole time making fun of him.

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