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Romeo And Juliet Film Review

Welcome to Verona Beach, a sexy, violent other-world, neither future nor past, ruled by two rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets… So begins Baz Luhrmanns production of Shakespeare’s beloved play, “Romeo and Juliet,” from the famous opening line of “Two Households both alike in dignity..” to the tragic end, the viewer is whisked away into the depths of heightened realism in the world of Verona Beach.

Casting includes Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo and Juliet as well as great performances by John Leguizamo (Tybalt) and, Harold Perrineau (Mercutio). Danes brings life to the character of Juliet and reaches far beyond the subservient stereotype of most Elizabethan characters with her ambition and assertion, although she sometimes sounds like a schoolgirl reading lines aloud for a teacher. DiCaprio is not quite as polished and in some scenes you may find him off-hand and whiny, however he manages to capture the depth and thoughtfulness associated with Romeo.

Updated to modern Verona Beach (rather than Verona, Italy), this film has all the pop and zip one would expect from a tale of family feud, star-crossed lovers and bloodthirsty vengeance. It includes a mix of classical and religious imagery. Wide sweeping shots of the city show the destruction and expanse of the Capulet and Montague empires. Lots of music, fast cuts, fantastic cinematography and superb sets and costumes make it the lively tale it was meant to be. These features also make the film somewhat cartoon-like with a lot of heightened realism. Don’t expect to see British people prancing around in tights when you rent this one. Luhrmann creates a world where gun-toting youths sport Hawaiian shirts and beachfront brawls are an everyday event.

Purists may hesitate, but the film uses its modern setting to its full potential and should be required viewing for any director who looks to put a modern spin on the 400-year- old play. Capulet and Montague become warring Mafia leaders, the Prince of Verona is a police chief trying to overcome the violence, and television anchors represent Shakespeare’s traditional chorus. Other, more subtle narrative devices work equally as well. No modern audience could mistake the significance of the “attempted delivery” post-it that falls off the door, never to be found. This isn’t just an update; director Baz Luhrmann has created a savvy exploitation of the film medium that assists the audience with Shakespeares dated language.

Giving the classic play this modern twist makes for a new understanding of the text and brings the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets to a whole new, dramatic level. Shakespeare may be rolling around in his grave after seeing this film, but English classes all over the world can breathe a little easier when it comes time to take the Romeo and Juliet final exam because this new adaptation makes the themes remarkably clear.

If the movie fails in any respect, it’s absence of some of Shakespeare’s words. Music (although very well suited) sometimes obscures the actors’ speech, and the lengthy text has been cut to almost two hours, eliminating some important scenes. Shakespeare movies usually have to undergo alterations to the text, because modern audiences are accustomed to two-hour feature films. But in this version of Romeo and Juliet, these aren’t just cuts. This is dismemberment.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to criticize Romeo and Juliet too much. With its sheer excitement and visual charge, there’s no doubt it will get a whole new group of people (particularly teenagers), excited about Shakespeare, who was indeed a fabulous storyteller.

If you need to see bodices and ruffled collars to enjoy your Veronese tragedies, choose otherwise; but if a boys’ choir singing “When Doves Cry” seems the perfect accompaniment to the wedding of two star-crossed lovers, you’ll surely enjoy the two hours’ traffic of this staging.

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