Romeo & Juliet
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UK Released DVD/Blu-Ray item. It MAY NOT play on regular US DVD/Blu-Ray player. You may need a multi-region US DVD/Blu-Ray player to play this item. Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) takes a shot at reinventing Shakespeare's story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet as a visual pastiche inspired by MTV imagery, Hong Kong action-picture clichÃ©s, and Luhrmann's own taste for deliberate, gaudy excess. The result is explosive chaos, both in terms of bullets and visual sensibility, which some may find impossible to stick with for more than a few minutes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play the leads, though not with much distinction, while Pete Postlethwaite makes a huge impression as this movie's version of Friar Laurence. The film is successful in spots, but overall its fever-dream game plan is difficult to ride out. --Tom Keogh
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The first thing that Luhrmann did right was stick to the original text. A lot of people initially balked at the fact that the dialog was not updated along with the setting but I felt that artistically it was a much grander feat to have the original dialog kept intact. The fact that each and every actor slips into this way of speaking fluently and without issue is an ode to some great talent indeed. No one seems out of place of phoning it. Each and every actor handles the difficult wording marvelously. The next thing Luhrmann did right was trashing his setting. What I mean by this is that he didn't go the easy route and make this posh and beautiful but rather he played everything down, creating an almost gritty and dirty feeling to the surroundings. This is the future and the future is bleak.
The best thing that Luhrmann did though was casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the lead roles. At the time DiCaprio was slowly becoming a credible actor and Danes was just becoming known. Neither of them were quote-unquote household names or completely bankable yet but they both had proven they could act. Here though we get to see how well. To this day I still firmly believe that this is Leonardo's finest performance. Both he and Danes masterfully command their characters. Never has Romeo or Juliet felt so alive, so real and so relatable. Their tragic love affair is so enthralling, so captivating and so breathtaking. There are moments between them of pure beauty and strength that I'm appalled their performances didn't garner more awards attention.
The rest of the cast is equally as impressive, especially the likes of Harold Perrineau (of `Lost' fame) who plays Romeo's best friend Mercutio. His performance is outlandish and flamboyant and adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film. John Leguizamo is memorable as Tybolt, Juliet's cousin, and Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful as Father Laurence. Paul Sorvino stands out for me as Juliet's father Fulgencio Capulet. His performance is brutal and intense and sends chills down my spine in scenes.
`William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' has never looked as good as it does here, telling the story of forbidden love and tragic circumstance that brings two families to their knees and teaches us a valuable lesson about forgiveness and tolerance. Baz Luhrmaan outdoes himself here, delivering a modern twist on a genuine classic complete with a beautiful color palate and an impressive soundtrack that adds layers of emotion, whether soft and touching or crisp and exciting (one reason this `Music Edition' is so worth the upgrade). It's not very often that the remake stands above its source material but Luhrmann's masterpiece is just that film.
* To begin with, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes come off just right as the "star-crossed lovers." They handle their lines - perhaps - a bit awkwardly, and their key scenes are overacted. But as far as I'm concerned, their somewhat `poor' performances are actually perfect. In the reality of the play - Romeo and Juliet's behavior (though arguably passionate) is less than genuine. They are young, fickle, and full of hormones, and what might seem like acts of heart-felt love and desire are actually just curious explorations of subversive behavior.
* Many have lamented that the dialogue in this film (essentially) mirrors the original text ... but changing the text (in any major way) would be a huge mistake. Shakespeare's plays are not famous because they have a great story line - they are famous because of the unbelievable writing. It would, therefore, be pointless to modernize the dialogue. Shakespeare's plays ARE the dialogue.
* Although this film - compared with other renditions of the play - is decidedly modern, certain elements do contribute to a sort of timely ambiguity. The cars, guns, drugs, and music suggest 1996 (or thereabouts), whereas the gothic mansions, the ball, the feuding families, and the oppressive presence of the Church seem somewhat anachronistic. I think this ambiguity speaks to the universality of Shakespeare's work. Does it even matter when this play takes place? Have hot-blooded teenagers changed that much over the years?
* Lastly, the ambience of Lurhmann's film is intoxicating: zipping, choppy cinematography, an over-abundance of gaudy electric lighting, and an intriguing soundtrack. It's very titillating in an adolescent sort of way. Anyone who does not find the scene - where DiCaprio is dragging on a cigarette against an orangey sunscape, with Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" slowly pulsing in the background - sentimentally sexy - well, you must not remember what it's like to be 15.
All in all, this is an ingenious approach to a classic text - not to mention an entertaining film.