Eye For Film >> Movies >> William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet (1996) Film Review
William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet
Reviewed by: Seph Shewell-Brockway
Civil blood makes civil hands unclean in Baz Luhrmann’s larger-than-life reimagining of one of William Shakespeare’s best-known plays, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title rôles.
Luhrmann moves the action from Renaissance Verona to the fictional modern town of Verona Beach, Southern California. After a striking - if slightly redundant - opening in which lines from the prologue are both spoken and displayed as intertitles, the film wastes no time in drawing the viewer in, the opening brawl being portrayed with great energy and tension. Shakespeare’s language is for the most part in safe hands, although DiCaprio and Dash Mihok (as Benvolio) sometimes focus on diction to the point that expressiveness is lost.
In one of her earliest big-screen appearances, Danes deftly avoids making her character appear at all weak or insipid, instead showing us a young woman of great courage and agency, in spite of how little control Juliet seems to have over her life. At times, DiCaprio’s Romeo comes across as rather lacklustre by comparison, particularly in the first half of the film, where the show is frequently stolen by both John Leguizamo as Tybalt and Harold Perrineau’s thoroughly mesmerising Mercutio. Also worthy of mention is Pete Postlethwaite’s Father Laurence, whom he portrays with an energy that is at once eccentric and compassionate.
Visually, the film is striking, with a bold palette that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with Luhrmann’s other work, and Donald McAlpine’s fluid cinematography pairs well with a production design bursting with light and colour. The score, made up of an eclectic mix of styles, matches the film’s idiosyncratic mise-en-scène; while both the visuals and sound may seem overblown at first, the viewer is quickly acclimatised to the film’s sensibility.
The second half of the film builds rapidly to the climactic final scene, which benefits from some very tight editing to maintain dramatic tension. We are left with a feeling of uneasy truce between Montague and Capulet which is very much in keeping with the original play.
This film is likely to divide viewers: if you are looking for a traditional Shakespeare adaptation, you will probably be disappointed. However, Luhrmann has, I feel, captured something of the essence of Shakespeare’s classic, and I would greatly recommend seeing the result.Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2016