Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

There is a scene in the third act of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” where Penelope Cruz’s character, a young Greek woman named Pelagia, begs her lover, Italian Army Captain Antonio Corelli, played by Nicolas Cage, not to leave.

captain corellis mandolinOff the screen, in the theater, the audience is begging Cage to go. Why? Because after suffering through over two hours of bad accents, dopey dialogue and Barbara Cartland-like trashy romance, we want “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” to end.

Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is as convoluted as its production credits. It took eight producers and four production companies to bring “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” to the screen, and they still couldn’t get it right. Maybe it is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” fancies itself as a romantic wartime drama. It’s based on a book I’ve never read or even heard of, but was popular enough to inspire a movie. I’m not sure what was lost during the adaptation, but what emerges on the screen is melodramatic, silly to the point of being preposterous movie that can’t make up its mind what it wants to be.

It’s impossible to take any of this seriously. From the annoying voice over that opens and closes the film, to the high school drama class performances and syrupy screenplay that mistakes theatrics for reality, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” hits one sour note after another.

Much of the film is laughable. The characters are so broadly written and directed that even the actors seem to have a hard time keeping a straight face. “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” plays like a road show version of “Zorba the Greek” as performed by the cast of “McHale’s Navy.”

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” takes place in 1941 on the small Greek island of Cephallonia, a gorgeous, picturesque paradise still hidden from the horrors of World War II. It’s here where Pelagia lives with her father Dr. Iannis (John Hurt), the local physician, and is betrothed to local fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale).

The idyllic life of the island dwellers is turned upside down when the men head off to war to defeat the Italians and the Germans, leaving the women and the older men to deal with enemy when they inhabit the island.

When Mandras fails to answer her letters or return from the war, Pelagia falls for Corelli, who heads up a singing platoon of Italian soldiers. Corelli’s laid back approach to the war sets him and his men at odds with their allies, the Germans, led by Captain Weber (David Morrissey), whose jealousy over Corelli’s popularity leads him down a dark path.

The screenplay by Shawn Solvo, whose script for “A World Apart” displayed an ability to create believable characters and situations, lacks authority. Solvo’s attempt to cover so many bases and please so many factions robs his script of focus. Is it a romantic drama? Is it a gritty war film? Is it a colorful travelogue? It’s a little of each, and then some.

Even though he hit gold with “Shakespeare in Love,” Madden has a spotty record as a director. His desire to make “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” cineplex accessible robs the film of any impact. Madden allows his actors to go for the broadest possible interpretation, creating caricatures rather than characters.

Cage looks sharp in his uniform, and flashes a winning smile, but every time he opens his mouth, you want to stuff it with a Gyro. Cage brags that he spent seven months perfecting his accent, yet the result sounds like a riff on one of those “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” commercials. That makes every word that comes out of his mouth sound like a joke, even when he’s being serious.

He’s in good company. Penelope Cruz doesn’t even try for an accent. Like anyone really cares what she has to say. Cruz takes every little emotion and inflates it to the point of embarrassment. It’s not so much a performance as an endurance test. She’s here as eye candy and nothing more.

John Hurt, who used to be such a good actor, suffers through some of the script’s worst moments. His character, an opinionated doctor who also serves as the narrator, is poorly written. Hurt bravely steps up to the plate, but no one is hitting home runs here.

That includes “American Psycho” hunk Christian Bale, who plays the revolutionary Mandras, and the great Irene Papas, who plays his mother. Papas is the only person in the cast who looks like she belongs here.

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” should have been a foreign film, with an international cast, and presented with subtitles. Instead, we get Americans playing Italians, Americans playing Germans, Spaniards playing Greeks, Brits playing Greeks. It’s a true cultural melting pot that never comes to a boil.

The film’s only ally is Oscar-winning director of photography John Toll, who lights and frames every shot with picture postcard perfection. Toll is one of the best, and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is a testament to his talent. I just wish the script and characters were just as memorable.

With a musical score that sucker punches every fake emotion, a script that skirts reality with a vengeance, and lackluster direction and performances, I can see why “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was dumped in theaters during the dog days of August. If it looks like a dog, barks like a dog, and smells like a dog, it must be “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.”


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin out of tune with reality


Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Christian Bale, John Hurt, Irene Pappas, David Morrissey. Directed by John Madden. Rated R. 127 Minutes.


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