|WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO + JULIET (1996)|
|"Has my heart loved 'till now? Forswear it, sight! For I never saw a true beauty 'till this night."|
|Time: 90 mins.|
Official Web Site
Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction.
Only Baz Luhrmann would could have turned such a classic romance into a high-octane melodrama for the MTV generation. After sitting next to a few high schoolers at the cineplex, it's clear this is an audience unfamiliar with the joy of Shakespeare. Though Lurhmann's vision isn't exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of the Bard, he deserves kudos for even trying to modernize the material. For traditionalists, this smash-cutting, blood-pumping, assault on the senses may be going too far, but then again this is clearly a film aimed at those who won't mind a tweak of the old tale.
The only reason this film works at all is because of the leads, DiCaprio and Danes. Their talent brings this love story alive, despite the loud soundtrack and crazy camera angles. Both of them are intelligent, easy on the eyes and make the language sing with earnestness and passion. I believed they instantly fell in love with one another and that's all that really matters. Their love is palpable and not even the wild direction diminishes that connection. I'm not exactly Leo's biggest fan, but there's not another young actor out there who could have pulled this role off.
It can't have been easy for them to make this believable, never mind just speaking it to begin with. Shakespeare's practically a foreign language. Danes and DiCaprio are so perfect for each other that by the end of the film part of me hoped that, literature be damned, they would live and ride off into the sunset together. It wouldn't have been the first time Hollywood screwed with a classic. If you take the girl behind me who was unaware that Romeo and Juliet die as the representative of her age group, they could have changed the ending with very little fuss. (I believe her exact words were, "I had no idea this was so sad." That's why it's called a TRAGEDY.)
The music and editing were slightly distracting at times, but the set design and costumes were vibrant, unusual and lush. No one creates visuals like Baz and his team of merry men. This is a first-rate production all the way, whether you like the execution or not. One of the most surprising moments of the film comes during the final death scene. Luhrmann sneaks something in that gives the moment extra poignancy without changing the actual text or eventual outcome. It makes the film even more heartbreaking, if that's possible.
If you like the leads and don't mind having to decipher the dialogue, this is a pretty good adaptation of the story. It may not be what Shakespeare had in mind, but he couldn't have found a better Romeo or Juliet to bring his story to life. Danes and DiCaprio are clearly two of the better actors of their generation. Hopefully, their future roles give them as much energy, intelligence and passion to capitalize on their talent.