William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1996)

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO & JULIET is a version for the nineties, 
with abbreviations in more places than just the title.  Fair Verona 
is now Verona Beach, a sun-baked battlezone where all the young 
dudes carry pistols, cruise the streets in low-riders, and pledge 
allegiance to one of two rival gangs, er, households.  (An aerial 
shot says it all, showing the names Montague and Capulet in giant 
letters across the tops of their respective skyscrapers.)  Early 
scenes are played at the pace of a music video, with character 
introductions cunningly conducted through the use of freeze-frames 
and title cards.  Down Under director Baz Luhrmann (STRICTLY BALL-
ROOM) sends his camera spinning in every conceivable direction, 
sometimes sped-up, sometimes in slow-motion.  His hyperkinetic 
style is intoxicating, but there's a catch:  the characters speak 
in iambic pentameter and not always that well.

The language that you learned to hate in high school spills from 
many an untrained mouth.  Bill's banter is spoken, shouted, 
mumbled, fumbled, and ultimately drowned out by the many sounds of 
the street.  No problem at first, in those explosive early scenes, 
such as a gas-station shoot-out shot like a Hong Kong spaghetti 
western.  When the director calms down-- and he does, regrettably-- 
the movie also slows down and the badly delivered dialogue starts 
to sink the story, instead of anchoring it.  (Of the young actors, 
only Claire Danes seems to know what she's doing.  The best thesps 
over thirty are Vondie Curtis-Hall's local police captain and Pete 
Postlethwaite's Father Laurence.)  Another problematic point is the 
plot, which isn't entirely believable by contemporary standards.  
(Romeo is sentenced to "banishment?"  Huh?  And why doesn't Juliet 
just run away from home?)  A grand failure, yes, but at least one 
that's great fun to watch.  (Rated "PG-13"/121 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies as No Holds Bard

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