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Cage’s ‘Captain’ mediocre

Madden’s World War II drama marred by hurried plot, unconvincing actors

The thought behind Nicolas Cage’s career decisions remains a mystery.

He has, on certain occasions, chosen to be in films such as “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Raising Arizona” and “Bringing Out the Dead” — all of which are a testament as to how good Cage can be. Then you have the battalion of second-rate films such as “Con Air” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” that he enthusiastically pumps out, leaving us wondering: what exactly is Cage thinking?

His latest movie, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” falls somewhere in between. Based on the book by Louis De Bernieres and directed by John Madden, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” follows the Italian occupation of the tiny Greek island, Cephallonia, and the love affair between Captain Corelli, played by Cage, and Pelagia, played by Penelope Cruz.

At the onset of the film, we are introduced to the sweeping scenery of Cephallonia, with its lush greenery amidst the mountains of granite and marble, surrounded by the deep, blue Ionian Sea. Pelagia and her father, Dr. Iannis, played by John Hurt live happily among the other inhabitants of their village as Pelagia is promised to wed the burly Mandras, played by Christian Bale.

But sadly, they live in a time of war, and must deal with the Italian invasion of their island and the gaudy presence of Corelli and his singing infantry. From there, we are taken along with the love affair, to the grim presence of the war and finally the happily-ever-after resolution.

In directing, Madden takes advantage of the incredibly picturesque setting and does a good job of evoking the simplicity of life on the island. But at times, Madden does not know how to handle his characters. The scenes that require the utmost control and emotion end up bland and unbelievable. This may be due to the severe trimming of the novel into a mere summary of a love affair in wartime. But it also is due to the unbelievability of Cage as an Italian and Cruz as a Greek woman. At times, the inherent goofiness of Cage doing an Italian accent is easy to sidestep until the point comes when he must show another emotion besides Corelli’s characteristic joviality.

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At its best, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” doesn’t rush the inevitable affair between Corelli and Pelagia, but lets it run its course through varying circumstances until the characters are about to explode. But the film falters in its dealings with the surrounding war. The audience knows the war is ravaging Europe, but the movie deals with the Greek occupation and liberation effort cursorily — relegating its presence to the end of the movie — seeming to be there only to heap on more melodrama.

Even when things cannot become any worse for the island, as the ruthless Germans have taken over its occupation and betrayed the Italians, we are whisked away to 1945 and the end of the war with no idea as to how it happens or what toll it has taken on the islanders.

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” like so many other movies this summer, had the potential to be a great film, but for all his aspirations, Madden found it easier to sidestep artistic complexity and settle for mediocrity.


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