Captain Corelli's Mandolin

USA, 2001. Rated R. 128 minutes.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Penélope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey, Irene Papas, Piero Maggio, Gerasimos Skiadaressis, Mihalis Giannatos, Aspasia Kralli, Patrick Malahide
Writers: Shawn Slovo, based on the novel by Louis de Bernières
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Cinematographer: John Toll
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Mark Huffam, Kevin Loader
Director: John Madden


Grade: D- Review by Carlo Cavagna

I n a world of slushy over-sentimentality… On an island unpopulated by realistic characters…an ethnic stereotype with a dreadful accent came into their lives. When you fall in love, everything becomes possible. (Except an interesting story.) From the director of Shakespeare in Love comes the most deadly dull film you will see all year...

If there were any truth in advertising, that's what the trailer for Captain Corelli's Mandolin would say.

Set on a Greek island occupied by Italian and German troops during World War II, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a bewildering mishmash of accents. Welshman Christian Bale (who lives with his mother, Spaniard Irene Papas) and Spaniard Penélope Cruz (who lives with her father, Englishman John Hurt) are Greek islanders in love, until Bale goes off to join the resistance and American Nicolas Cage, playing an Italian captain named Corelli (duh), arrives to steal Cruz's heart. But then Italy falls to the Allies, and surrenders, leaving Cage and his fellow soldiers (who do include some actual Italians) to be rounded up by their onetime German allies, who include Englishman David Morrissey.

From a historical point of view, there is the potential for exciting drama here. Mussolini went to war with an ill-prepared army. They were routed by inferior numbers of Greeks and were bailed out by the Germans. After Mussolini was deposed, Nazi troops occupied Northern Italy and treated the Italians like the population of any other occupied territory. The Germans issue an ultimatum to Corelli and his men: they must surrender their weapons… or else. What does a reluctant soldier in Corelli's position do?

Apparently, according to screenwriter Shawn Slovo and director John Madden, he sings opera and plays the mandolin. Did you know that all Italian soldiers love opera? Of course they do! They are lovers, not fighers, after all, and are always ready to enjoy la dolce vita, partying on the beach with prostitutes and blowing up ancient Turkish mines (thus injuring themselves) for no good reason. It's a wonder Corelli doesn't bring his gondola and striped shirt with him from Italy.

Madden and Slovo paint their drama with the broadest possible strokes, failing to draw out any nuance. Consisting of a series of sloppy vignettes loosely connected to goings-on in the larger world, the fuzzy plot takes a back seat to a romance between stars who don't seem remotely interested in each other. To say they lack chemistry would be an understatement.

Motivations are equally unclear. Captain Corelli's Mandolin is the sort of movie where, every time a character says something, you want to ask, "Why?"

Penélope Cruz and John Hurt pretend to be Greek"I must leave." Why?

"I will fight them." Why?

"I will marry him." Why?

"I love him." Why?

"I love you." Why?

"I can't live without you." Why?

"I tried to live without you." Why?

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is also the sort of movie where pictures of pretty places and music are palmed off as artistry, attempting to provide the emotional momentum that the writing lacks. A brief monologue on the nature of love by Hurt (seen in one of the movie's trailers) provides the film's only resonant moment--although it would resonate more if we believed that any of the characters was actually experiencing the passion he describes.

Other than that, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is so utterly lacking in artistic vision and narrative arc that one wishes Luis Mandoki had directed it. As insufferably melodramatic as that director's Message in a Bottle and Angel Eyes are, those films manage to convey a sense that the story is going somewhere. The vision, though intolerable, is at least coherent. Captain Corelli's Mandolin is, by contrast, a trite, senseless wander on the beaches of the Aegean Sea, lost in an inert fog.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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