The film centers on the intertwined lives of villagers and soldiers on picturesque Cephallonia, one of the Ionian Islands off the coast of Greece. The island's peaceful farming community turns upside down during a three-year occupation by Italian troops.
Pelagia (Penelope Cruz ), the proud daughter of the village doctor, despises the soldiers until Italian Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) charms her by playing his mandolin at her dinner table.
A love triangle forms when Pelagia falls for Corelli while her fiance is off fighting in the war.
Although Cruz looks the part, she seems to be stuck in a role that could be played by most any doe-eyed, dark-haired actress. She makes no attempt to hide her Spanish accent, which can't quite pass for Greek.
Likewise, Cage is unconvincing as the opera-singing, mandolin-strumming Corelli and seems too old for the role. Usually an actor with a solid grasp on the characters he plays, Cage's forced Italian accent is more suited for a Chef Boyardee commercial and wavers sporadically.
Perhaps Cruz and Cage's lackluster efforts are exacerbated by John Hurt's charming performance. Hurt shines throughout the film as Cruz's father, Dr. Iannias, dispensing practical wisdom and much-needed moments of comic relief when the plot drags.
But the ensuing romance between Pelagia and Corelli is where the story falters. Cage and Cruz have about as much chemistry as two logs and make for an unbelievable couple. Even the one love scene between the two seems awkward and passionless.
It's a disappointing execution of what could have otherwise been a moving love story.
For the most part, director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") stays true to the history of the time. After Italy surrenders to Allied Forces in 1943, Germany turns on their former ally and orders the Italian troops to turn in their weapons.
The soldiers on Cephallonia defy the order, resulting in a bloody nine-day battle and the only real action sequence in the movie. The scenes would fit appropriately into a war movie but seem outrageously gory in light of the love story.
The movie ends on a vague note, leaving lingering doubts about what will happen to the characters. But the feeling is fleeting, since their passionless performances didn't inspire much sympathy from the beginning.
Whether you're looking for romantic sparks or glorious "Saving Private Ryan" violence, you'll find neither here. If anything, the experience of viewing "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" will make you appreciate only two things --
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