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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.63%
Worth A Look: 13.16%
Average: 13.16%
Pretty Bad50%
Total Crap: 21.05%

2 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Captain Corelli's Mandolin
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by Andrew Howe

"The same old song"
2 stars

For the last six months, the mere mention of the upcoming release of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin prompted ninety percent of my female friends to assault my ears with an enthusiastic recounting of the novel’s innumerable charms. Having finally viewed the finished product, I would suggest that, in future, the words “… but I didn’t think much of the film” will tarnish their rhapsodic declarations.

Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia in 1941, the film charts the relationship between Antonio Corelli (Nicholas Cage), a part-time hedonistic musician and full-time soldier in the occupying Italian army, and Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), the strong-willed daughter of the local doctor. In the style of future generations of European holidaymakers, Corelli and his cohorts spend their tour of duty belting out songs and satisfying their base needs (shades of Mediterraneo), but matters are complicated by the return of Pelagia’s fiancé Mandras (Christian Bale) from the front line and Mussolini’s unexpected capitulation, which fails to endear the Italians to their erstwhile German allies.

It should be obvious from the above synopsis that the script has its roots in the purest melodramatic tradition, but if we’re going to use that as a reason to disparage a film we’d have to bring charges against half of Hollywood’s output for the past eighty years. However, if you’re going to spend 130 minutes chronicling a love affair (which, apart from twenty minutes of action, is the film’s sole reason for being) you need interesting characters, believable motivations and an insightful commentary on the human condition. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin exhibits none of these qualities, leaving us with a long-winded, listless tale of a relationship which holds precious little interest for anyone who isn’t personally involved in its outcome.

Not having read a single word of Louis de Bernieres’s novel, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation. This can work in a film’s favour – my status as the only science-fiction fan who hasn’t read Dune probably accounts for my refusal to join the lynch mob that threatened David Lynch with bodily harm at the post-release party, and the empty space on my bookshelf where one might expect to find a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary meant that the film was all the more enjoyable for not having been previously exposed to Helen Fielding’s knowing sense of humour.

In the case of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, however, one of the following must be true – either people whose taste I normally hold in high regard have taken leave of their senses, or the film represents an appalling waste of potential. The assertion that love knows no boundaries is an old and trusted theme, but in the hands of scriptwriter Shawn Slovo the film becomes little more than a promotional video for the picturesque Greek islands.

I’m not sure what prompted the studio to entrust the adaptation to the likes of Slovo, since her sole claim to fame is penning the script to A World Apart, which was released fourteen years ago. I am led to believe that de Bernieres’s novel didn’t want for depth when it came to depicting the central relationship, but it’s certainly not apparent from Slovo’s adaptation.

Pelagia’s love for Corelli appears to spring from garden-variety lust, since pensive mandolin strumming and a ditty entitled “Pelagia’s Song” are all it takes to win her over, while her willingness to forsake her fiancé is never adequately explained (it seems to have something to do with the fact that he’s too busy being exposed to the horrors of war to answer her letters, and her insensitivity to his plight is by no means endearing). Pelagia does even less to promote Corelli’s affections, and despite Cage’s best efforts to portray him as a yearning, romantic soul it appears that he’s simply in it for the thrill of the chase (or maybe he had nothing better to occupy his time).

The interplay between the leads will have most viewers reaching for the caffeine, and anyone looking for a finely-crafted insight into adult relationships will be wondering if they’ve wandered into a teen flick by mistake. The dialogue sinks when it should sparkle, the lovebirds take a siesta when they should smoulder, and the consummation of their mutual longing is one of the least-involving sex scenes I’ve witnessed all year (give me aching tenderness, give me the intensity of a spinner-rack bodice-ripper, but don’t give me boredom).

Casting Cage in the lead role might have been an inspired choice if he’d stepped into the shoes of a three-dimensional character. Cage specialises in portraying tortured emotions, aided by a perpetually mournful expression which gives him the look of a man who’s just been told that he’s only got a couple of weeks to live. He conspires to turn Corelli into a suitably sympathetic character (there are moments when he makes you wish you could step through the screen and offer a consoling hug), but when you scratch the surface you’ll discover that there’s nothing of substance beneath. He strums, he sings, he stares death in the face, but he’s not a particularly interesting individual, a problem which could have been overcome if Slovo had seen fit to script a little more background to his civilian life and motivations (unless he really is solely motivated by wine, women and song, in which case I point the finger at de Bernieres instead).

Penelope Cruz has yet to convince me that she deserves an acting career, and her performance in this film does nothing to soften my stance. Putting aside the fact that we’ve got a Spanish woman in a role meant for a Greek actress, her speciality appears to be shouting in an annoying fashion while flouting her flawless features. That’s fine if you’re starring in Desperado or The Mask of Zorro, but a supposedly weighty film requires a broader range. To be fair, her character is even less developed than Cage’s (and isn’t particularly likeable to boot), but she was obviously cast for reasons other than her ability to service the role, and that’s a crime which should not go unpunished.

Christian Bale is wasted on an underwritten supporting role which exists solely to add a little spice to the mix, leaving John Hurt as the only actor in the film whose talents are matched to a character that deserves them. He is, as always, a pleasure to watch as he effortlessly assays the role of Pelagia’s father – his craggy features and expressive voice are perfect for the part, and his character, somewhat perversely, possesses a depth that the ostensible leads lack. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention David Morrisey’s performance as Weber, a sympathetic and strangely likeable Nazi, and I would suggest that the film would have been much improved if he’d been allocated a greater share of the available screen time.

Once our heroes have concluded their courting rituals, the film gives us a taste of what might have been. For twenty minutes it’s everything the premise promised, with pitched battles, heroism and soul-destroying injustice setting the screen alight. Even here, though, the script misses the boat: the Italian soldiers fade into the background for the majority of the film’s duration, and since we don’t have an investment in their continued survival the impact of the bloodshed is diminished (see Gladiator for a further case study in this unfortunate phenomenon). I would have also liked to see some measure of vengeance enacted (I’m not asking for much here, given the level of melodrama which preceded the climax – simply shooting a scene where the resistance takes out a couple of members of the German high command would have sufficed), but since that would have worked against one of the central messages (the good don’t always prosper) I’ll let it slide.

The one thing the film cannot be faulted for is its ability to capture the atmosphere of the setting. The Cephalonian heat practically radiates from the screen, and every shot tantalises the senses with images of long days and languorous nights spent on the shores of the Ionian Sea. If you close your eyes you can almost taste the ouzo and smell the salty breeze, and I imagine that any local residents who have grown weary of the influx of tourists will be wishing that the crew had taken their equipment elsewhere.

Unfortunately, if you’re reduced to praising the cinematography in an effort to say something positive about a film then it’s faint praise indeed. Buried within Captain Corelli’s Mandolin there’s a major motion picture event trying to break free, and I can only hope that, many years from now, a band of talented filmmakers revisit the tale of Corelli and Pelagia’s star-crossed love affair and capture the spirit of the song, instead of contenting themselves with a technically proficient but soulless cover.

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originally posted: 08/24/01 10:56:03
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User Comments

6/20/05 GWM Bale forget cruz just spread my legs and stick your hot nine-incher into my wide-open pussy 1 stars
10/21/04 Tracie Smegelski No, it wasn't as good as the book, nothing is ever as good as the book! Not awful either.. 3 stars
5/21/03 JoeSco Better than expected and I was shocked of the truth of what the Germans did to the Italians 4 stars
4/28/03 Jack Bourbon Captain Corelli's Masturbation 1 stars
5/20/02 Kristen Total bore 1 stars
4/03/02 Edfink Lombardo One of the worst movies of 2001...Shitty acting, trite storytelling. Absolutely appalling 1 stars
3/03/02 J Not a bad movie, just a bit overlong. Cage was the best actor here. 3 stars
2/09/02 MOSHONAS.GERRY far way from the beauty of the story 4 stars
12/08/01 Steven Ansell It's terrible! Nothing like the book, and just plain crap! 1 stars
11/03/01 daniboy horrible 2 stars
9/15/01 Joanne Cheetham Dreadful 1 stars
9/11/01 Janine Lay, RN breathtaking scenery, Cage is hot, Cruz's acting sucked, but I was lost in the moment. 4 stars
9/10/01 John Captures the atmosphere of the island and time very well. GOOD MOVIE 4 stars
9/07/01 bub dude desperado was salma hayek and zorro was catherine zeta jones... 2 stars
8/28/01 mara z. crep. 1 stars
8/27/01 Alvaro Espinal-Madrigal Do we really need to see another bad war film? A great war movie cant ever be made.War is.. 2 stars
8/26/01 Belinda Damn shame Ms P Cruz was in this.....she cheapened it. 3 stars
8/26/01 Christina A beautiful account in a trying time 5 stars
8/22/01 Jake Ugh! What melodramatic trash. 1 stars
8/21/01 Danielle A little too long and drawn out 2 stars
8/20/01 Mary No chemistry between characters. Slow and empty. 2 stars
8/19/01 Marguerite very so-so flick. Could have waited for the dvd to come out. 3 stars
8/19/01 Babybelle Nice place shame about the face! 2 stars
8/10/01 kris Poor, simplistic adaptation of the book. A disappointment. 3 stars
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  17-Aug-2001 (R)


  23-Aug-2001 (M)

Directed by
  John Madden

Written by
  Shawn Slovo
  Louis de Bernières

  Nicolas Cage
  Penélope Cruz
  John Hurt
  Christian Bale

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