"William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet" – DVD, Blu-Ray Review (1996)

11/18/2010 Posted by Admin

"William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet" (1996)

DVD, Blu-Ray Review

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Written by William Shakespear (play), Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pierce, Rated PG-13, 120-minutes.

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

The tragic tale of Juliet and her Romeo has been done to death. From classical renditions to updates on the Westside streets of New York, the story has seen it all. There’s a lot of competition in re-staging "Romeo and Juliet," but few are as encompassing and as original as Baz Luhrmann’s attention-deficit commentary on the LA gang wars, which is just out on Blu-ray disc. The film’s quick cuts, vibrant primary colors and rich performances are all busy enough to make this old tale feel new--when it’s not giving you a headache. Despite closely following Shakespeare’s word, Luhrmann’s film makes the story his own -- so much so you might forget the looming tragedy as it approaches.

Most people are familiar with the story, so Luhrmann quickly puts his version into context and brings the audience up to speed. The film opens on a TV news anchor acting as our chorus, and she recounts the feud between Montague and Capulet, and the star-crossed and tragic lovers, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes).

Luhrmann sets the film in Verona Beach, a hyper-violent wasteland, where gun-checks replace coat-checks, and designer bullet proof vests are as common as designer jeans.

Amidst the war, Romeo, a Montague, falls in love with Juliet, a Capulet, but because of their families, the two keep their love a secret, which eventually leads to more bloodshed.

Luhrmann’s style is a mix of old and new. The film’s color scheme reflects the vibrant primary colors of the '90s, while his cuts make it look like a music video – or, in the case of the opening credits, a movie trailer.

Meanwhile, many of the scenes, particularly involving Lady Capulet (Jessica Lange) and Mercutio (Harold Perrineau), bring out the camp of older stagings, almost parodying them. So, while the actors revel in Shakespeare’s tongue, Luhrmann pumps the production with '90s chic.

The director over-stimulates his audience, but Danes and DiCaprio give us something to care about. Both offer riveting performances that slow down Luhrmann’s style and bring the story back to the characters. They are so sympathetic and believable that you’re likely to expect their success.

Of course, by the third act, you’ll remember things aren’t going to end well. Romeo doesn’t receive the letter, he drinks the poison and Juliet commits suicide.  If that was a spoiler for you, sorry.

Luhrmann never loses sight of the film’s tragedy and keeps it at the film’s center. He and the rest of the cast make this ending shocking, and for a 400-year-old story, that’s difficult to do.

Grade: B+

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  1. Tarrah said...

    I MUST see this 'Romeo and Juliet'!! I absolutely love Mr. Shakespear any and everything he's written and I've collected the majority of his origional (duplicates, ofcourse) books. I truly enjoy watching movies about W.Shakespear's work, even books rewritten, it thrills me how many different interpretations can be encountered through his origional works.

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