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William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, more...
Director: Baz Luhrmann, Baz Luhrmann
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Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Drama, Romance, Shakespeare
Running Time: 120 min.
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish
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The classic Shakespearean romantic tragedy is updated by director Baz Luhrmann to a post-modern Verona Beach where swords are merely a brand of gun and bored youths are easily spurred toward violence. Longtime rivals in religion and business, the Montagues and the Capulets share a page from the Jets and Sharks of West Side Story when they form rival gangs. Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is aloof toward the goings-on of his Montague cousins, but after he realizes that Juliet (Claire Danes) is a Capulet at the end of one very wild party, the enmity between the two clans becomes the root of his angst. He relies heavily -- and with serious consequences -- on his rebel gender-bender of a friend, Mercutio (Harold Perrineau Jr.), and Father (not Friar) Lawrence (Pete Postlethwaite) for protection and support. Romeo is, of course, exiled, and it looks like Juliet will be forced into an arranged marriage with the bland Paris (Paul Rudd). It ends, as Romeo and Juliet must, when Romeo hears a tragic piece of misinformation and brings his suicide wish to what was meant to be Juliet 's temporary tomb. This time, though, the turf and the weapon of choice have taken a turn toward the surreal. ~ Tracie Cooper, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

A sign of the times by ancawonka July 27, 2005 - 11:25 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
Watching this movie as a 23-year-old in 1996, I felt it was a great adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for the times. Watching it later, at 30, I found that it was still a sign of the times - the 1990's times, that is. The romance between Romeo and Juliet takes on the madness of common teenagers when they are in a familar context. The tragedy is ... well ... sad and pointless, rather than epic - but isn't that what young love so often becomes to those of us who survive its intensity and grow past it?

This movie isn't stuffy, but there's plenty of posing and gold chains and guns. The Baz Luhrmann tendency for overly bright colors and saturated scenery is wonderful here. Verona beach has all the decadence of self-reflective Hollywood.

This isn't Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare, all British. This is raw and American, and a glorious adaptation if you can let go of the propriety and enjoy it for its paste jewelry shine.

Ok by ironically December 6, 2004 - 4:23 AM PST
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
Performances of Shakespeare's plays seem to fall into three types of settings: they attempt to re-create the world that existed when the play was written, they place the action in modern times, or they set up a postmodern dystopia.

In that third group, Julie Taymor's "Titus" is an example of a movie that creates a horrifying world of the past/present/future with stunning effect, both visually and dramatically. "Romeo+Juliet" also falls in to that third category, but with much less success.

The trappings of Goth culture mix with cartoonish sound effects and titles that explain the importance of each character, giving you a useful (if sterile) Cliff's Notes introduction to the plot. Oddly enough, as the movie progresses, the sound effects stop and the editing becomes much more conventional, even formulaic. It's almost like watching a cool party get boring, and realizing it wasn't so cool in the first place. While the look is interesting at first, it contributes little to the force of the story.

The original script concerns characters who are overwhelmed by emotion, whether it's virulent hatred or obsessive love. Therefore, the audience must understand the strength of these feelings, or the action will seem arbitrary. Shakespeare beautifully expresses human emotion, and he just needs some good acting to bring his words to life.

Unfortunately, neither Leonardo DiCaprio nor Claire Danes seem to have the acting ability to pull it off. Watching this movie, one wonders if they really love each other, or if they're just hooking up for a couple of days. Part of this may be due to unpleasant cutting in the two lovers' most eloquent lines. The need to shorten the original play is understandable, but perhaps they should have left in more of the romantic stuff. It's hard to watch this movie and believe that these are two people whose love overpowers all common sense.

John Leguizamo's performance lacks the lightning that Shakespeare wrote into Tybalt, settling mostly for some incoherent sneering. Harold Perrineau's Mercutio lacks joy, and his Queen Mab speech falls flat on its face as he tries to turn it into a creepy ghost story. Overall, both sides really do very little to show the raw hatred that they feel for each other.

Eventually, the modern setting makes the story implausible. Why didn't the star-cross'd lovers have IM, or at least email? When did society stop embalming the dead? Wouldn't a scion like Romeo have a satellite phone? They're already in Verona Beach; couldn't they just drive down to Tijuana?

In the end, however, this is an enjoyable movie, and has some nice moments. The story has eternal appeal, and the text is quite beautiful, even when the acting is somewhat weak.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.74)
123 Votes
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Shakespeare on DVD at GreenCine, annotated
It's hard to search for Shakespeare plays, so this list as of 12/07 may help. Alphabetized by main word in title; renamed adaptations such as Throne of Blood are mentioned but not listed. To see GC's own list, click any 'Shakespeare'-as-genre link.
Literary Films
an English major's favorite literary movies

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