5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The good isn't Shakespeare, the Shakespeare isn't good.,
This review is from: Romeo And Juliet [DVD] (DVD)
Bringing Shakespeare into the current day is always a risky business, at its best it can lend new and modern insights and reach out to a generation that might otherwise remain estranged; at worst it grates and jars. This film manages to do both in equal measure. The film is certainly not for the purist, the original script seems largely optional both in terms of which bits are used and the order in which the lines appear. It is ironic that the films most captivating scenes - the drug trip and the electrifying ending particularly spring to mind - are the ones with which greatest liberties have been taken. Baz Luhrmann seems to have come up with a Shakespearean film in which the bits that are Shakespeare's aren't good and the bits that are good aren't Shakespeare's, which must be something of a first.
The direction generally does not match that of Zefirelli's 1968 classic, and nor does the casting. DiCaprio may guarantee bums on seats but he looks at sea in several scenes and Claire Danes, though competent throughout, seems to lack the sexual chemistry needed to ignite the play in whatever format it appears. The other cast members vary between competent (Brian Dennehy as Papa Montague; Dash Mihok as Benvolio) and cringingly bad - Harold Perrineau taking the homosexual undertones of Mercutio's psyche to levels more camp than the Rocky Horror Picture Show; Mirian Margoyles Spanish accent requiring protective waterproof clothing for her fellow cast members. The one exception is Pete Postlethwaite who, despite having half his part chopped out to facilitate the all-new ending, is a riveting Friar Lawrence; take away all his lines and he would still steal every scene.
This film will never escape its tag of "dumbed-down" Shaespeare, nor does it deserve to: it is. The subtlety and slow burn of the inevitable slide into passion-fuelled tragedy is sacrificed for the wham-bam of the gangster movie and the assumption of the 40-second attention span. This is Hollywood -Shakespeare, done by Americans for Americans, it still is a rollicking good story but, if you really want transatlantic Shakespeare at its best, go see West Side Story.