William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet - * * *

Very strange modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet has a few more hits than misses. Baz Lurhman directs this updated version of Romeo and Juliet. Although placed in a modern setting, the dialogue remains Shakespeare’s (for the most part, some lines have swapped characters, and there have been some liberal cuts). The plot remains unchanged: Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) come from rival families, and they fall briefly and tragically into love. Their families are economic powerhouses, whose younger members are little more than chaos riddled gang bangers. The props and scenes have been updated as well (swords and rapiers are now different gun brands, and various scenes take place in gas stations, amusement parks and swimming pools). In fact, the whole film has an “update at all costs” attitude, which is part of the film’s charm but it also hurts it at times, as well. Many of the actors don’t seem to understand many of their lines, they just mumble along until they hit a phrase or word they recognize, then pronounce it with meaning. This has the effect of garbling the movie even more than the whiplash editing. Still, a few performances shine through. Claire Danes adapts to the Shakespearean dialogue naturally, and Pete Posthethwaite seems to be a veteran at this sort of thing. And although occassionally the message is garbled, the overall meaning of the various scenes does get conveyed. You definitely need an open mind to accept this one…but once you overlook its flaws, you can find plenty of gems within.

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