Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 247: Romeo + Juliet (1996) - Rank 4/5


There are very few adaptations of Shakespeare's works that I find genuinely enjoyable when executed. I don't blame the source material per se, though the dialect can be tricky for those attempting to speak it when they really don't understand what it means. As a result, many productions come of as emotionless "readings" of the play in question, for the actors saying the lines aren't conveying the emotion behind the meaning of the words. I've found over the years, that the British excel at really bringing the Bard's prose to life. Perhaps it's cultural.

So you can understand my hesitancy when it came to watching Leonardo DiCaprio (milking his 90's heartthrob image) belt out Shakespeare. Surprisingly, it works. Had the production been set in 16th century Italy, I think the story would have fallen flat. Thankfully, Lurhmann injected his own unique breed of showmanship into the tale, placing Verona smack-dab in the middle of Mexico (the fictitious Verona Beach looking like the architectural love-child between Mexico City and Rio). Other permutations, such as giving the guns brand names like "Rapier" or "Sword" and reducing Queen Mab to a hit of Ecstasy, enhance the modern settings.

While the film's two leads, DiCaprio and Claire Danes, aren't exceptional, they ain't bad neither (if I'm permitted to coin such a phrase while reviewing Shakespeare). Pete Postlethwaite M. Emmet Walsh and Paul Sorvino devour much of the scenery, as is typically their want...especially Sorvino. Ah, but even Brian Dennehy eases into his role as the head of the Montague clan. So even though the story of Romeo and Juliet has seen the light of stage and screen countless times, it's nice to see that in the proper hands, it can still feel fresh.

Watch the Trailer

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