Director: John Madden
For those familiar with Louis de Bernieres' famous award-winning novel by the same name, this film may spell compromise in bold, blasphemous caps as Oscar-friendly British director John Madden generously subordinates the written word to cinematic licence. Now where that may be unavoidable in such artistic collaborations here it's a tad excessive. The film makes some of the book's main characters lose their textual identities and, in the process, makes their actions rather inexplicable. For example, in showing Carlo laying down his life for Corelli (Cage), it is nowhere even suggested that Carlo is in love with his captain. Next comes the political backdrop the epical novel is set in: something that is also regrettably reversed to suit the good-and-evil sensibility of some imagined mainstream audience as Mandras (Bale) is depicted as a suffering love's martyr rather than the bloodied renegade that he is in the book. And then there is the original's end that Madden and crew transform into one that is more suited to a war years Hollywood fable. Where triangular love, like triangular war, is almost always resolved the simplistic either-or way. And not in faith with the novel.
However, for those not exposed to the British author, the film is quite the romance that its director—who has in the past won unworthy mention and Oscar-nominations for an extremely syrupy Shakespeare in Love—intended it to be. In fact, for the above-mentioned, the film almost intuits a need as it comes at a time when love, restitution and feelings of vague ecumenism are hot mainly because they seem amiss in real life. And to its credit, the film does articulate the gap well. Even though it was made when war was only in the minds of covert jehadis, it is lucky to be still on at the theatres; especially post a 'war' that promised to clash civilisations.
The mandolin becomes a sort of pre-hippy standard for war-cessation and peace-mongering and Cage's Captain Corelli becomes its miscast bearer. (He's much too inscrutable for a role like that!) Yes, this is a bit of a feel-good-in-feel-bad-times flick. But what sets it apart are the gorgeous locales (the real and hugely picture-postcardish Cephalonia) and visions of skilfully abridged (but at times rushed-up) drama. On the whole, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is not without a fair share of screenplay moments and great dialogues.
But what remains unexplained is why Corelli and his musical foot soldiers are such incorrigible happiness-junkies, especially in the face of impending defeat and possible execution. In parts, it does seem like the Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful but the mindless and out-of-place joy is reined in as the saga of war and occupation is played on in a beautiful Eden. Penelope Cruz as the lovely Pelagia completes the picture!