Plot: What’s it about?
It’s no surprise that a film like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin came from a distributor like Miramax. The film is right up the studio’s alley (it’s a low-budget, romantic drama), and, further consistent with their m.o., they wrangled up a few talented people to put it together. It may be a shrink-wrapped Oscar-wannabe, but director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)’s touch is deft enough to help the viewer forget that and make this film worthwhile.
His low-budget romantic drama is set in the 1940s on the Greek island of Cephallonia, and centers around the life of the town medic, Dr. Iannis (John Hurt, Alien) His daughter, Pelagia (Penelope Cruz, Blow), is in love with a local fisherman named Mandras (Christian Bale, American Psycho), who is set to leave to fight against Mussolini’s forces in Albania. But not long after he leaves, Cephallonia is invaded by the very same Italians, including the romantic, mandolin-strumming Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage). He and his soldiers find their latest assignment to be cushy duty, and soon they and the locals are on somewhat friendly terms. Corelli meets the beautiful Pelagia, and his charm eventually wins her heart — setting her heart up for a struggle between the man she now loves and the man she once did.
Hollywood has produced so many war dramas, especially those of the World War II variety, that deal with the same “war is hell” theme. But thankfully, Corelli’s Mandolin focuses much more on romantic elements, with the war providing the necessary plot conflict and a change of scenery once in a while. The story itself is somewhat predictable, but Louis de Bernieres’s novel is likely to blame for that — when Pelagia conveniently loses interest in Mandras right before Captain Corelli strolls into town, it doesn’t exactly bring our hands to our cheeks in astonishment.
Of course, with Madden’s directing, we can still expect a sweeping romance; indeed, the film certainly suited the director, as he has shown a knack for period romances like this and Shakespeare in Love. Madden also showed his ability to juggle the various facets of these thematically rich pictures, because both Shakespeare and Corelli’s Mandolin deal with the same themes of tradition and values, and here, those themes are added to the anti-war theme. Madden handled them all quite well without even showing an all-out battle scene, and his cause was aided by the cinematography of John Toll; he gave the small movie a much grander, almost epic feel with several wide-angle crane shots and ample lighting.
Madden also reaffirmed his talent for producing solid performances from his cast. John Hurt stands out the most as the older father figure, and Penelope Cruz is easily the best choice for his beautiful daughter in the lead role. Cage is likable (as always), but his Italian accent seems a tad forced, and I wouldn’t doubt that his casting was due to Miramax’s desire to get a big name on the poster rather than to actually fill the role.
Also worthy of note, and prominent among the many elements the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will surely enjoy, is the score by Stephen Warbeck, who also composed the music for Shakespeare in Love. The music had hints of his other work, but additionally it had the beautiful theme Corelli played on his mandolin; the hand-played piece became part of the score itself and was a perfect love theme for the film.
Like Warbeck’s score, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is somewhat predictable, and that will be its main point of criticism and primary weakness at the awards ceremonies. But thanks to the talent involved, it’s hard to say the film is not enjoyable, and with a low-budget romantic drama like this, sometimes that’s all that’s necessary.
Video: How does it look?
Captain Cordelli’s Mandolin is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As you’d expect from a day & date release, the image here looks terrific and has little room for complaints. The print has no real defects to speak of and the image is quite sharp, but I didn’t see much in terms edge enhancement, so no worries there. The film’s bright & vivid color scheme is maintained well here, with vibrant hues and no errors, while flesh tones are on the mark also. On the same lines, the contrast sports well balanced black levels and no issues as far as detail, so it all looks excellent with this treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
Universal, being one of the studios that really supports DTS has offered both a Dolby Digital track and a DTS one to boot. While the soundtrack isn’t one of the best I’ve heard, it does it’s job very well and there’s really nothing to complain about. I would have to give the edge, as per usual to the DTS as the discrete effects do make the movie come alive a bit more. Dialogue is natural and without any distortion; but no matter which track you pick, you’ll be pleased.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While not fully loaded to the gills with supplements, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin does feature a full-length commentary track by Director (make that “Oscar-Winning Director”) John Madden (no relation to the football player). He is full of useful information, but the track still has some flaws. As in his track for Shakespeare in Love, he’s proud of his work here, but unless you really like the movie, this may be a feature to skip over. Aside from the commentary, there’s the standard Production Notes and Cast Bios and a Russell Watson music video ôRicordo Ancorö (ôPelagiaÆs Songö). Some DVD-ROM content has also been included as is a theatrical trailer.