Thursday, April 04, 2013
William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is a modern take on the famed tragic love story involving two young people from feuding families falling in love with each other. With a screenplay Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, the film is the chance to redefine the famed Shakespeare story in a modern setting while retaining Shakespeare’s dialogue to maintain his language. Starring Leonardo diCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Sorvino, Diane Venora, Harold Perrineau, Miriam Margoyles, Paul Rudd, and Vondie Curtis-Hall. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is a dazzling film from Baz Luhrmann.
The story of Romeo & Juliet is often told in many variations as it is about the tragedy of two young people who fall in love in the middle of a war between their families. By setting it in present time where guns replace swords and cars instead of horses, Baz Luhrmann and co-screenwriter Craig Pearce allow the story to be told for a new audience who might not be able to understand William Shakespeare’s story. As a result, not only does Luhrmann and Pearce were able to be faithful to Shakespeare’s tragedy as well as retain his language but also find a way to make it relevant for a teenage audience as well as be engaging enough for older audiences.
While the script does make some alterations for the story in order to make it more dramatic, Luhrmann and Pearce do maintain that sense of faithfulness in the story while not using exposition to explain the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues other than they’re just two businessmen who hate each other. Caught in the middle of this feud are their children Juliet Capulet (Claire Danes) and Romeo Montague (Leonardo diCaprio) who prefer not to be involved as Juliet is already set to marry a governor’s son in Dave Paris (Paul Rudd) while Romeo is reeling from a break-up. Meeting at party at the Capulets mansion, the two fall in love as they have no idea who they are yet realize what families they’re from. Still, neither Romeo nor Juliet have a care in the world of what their families would think as they hope their union would bring peace to their feuding families though there are those like Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo) who sees Romeo and the Montagues as villains.
Characters like Juliet’s nurse (Miriam Margoyle) and Father Lawrence (Pete Postlethwaite) would play their roles as those who would try to create the peace between the two families yet events would shatter this peace leading to Romeo’s banishment from Verona Beach and Juliet’s own despair. Even as Father Lawrence would try to do things to get the two together in the film’s third act yet the schematics of what Shakespeare would do to convey the tragedy that is to come.
Luhrmann’s direction is definitely stylish in its presentation as he shoots the film largely in Mexico with bits of Miami as Verona Beach. Filled with an array of dazzling shots and some gorgeous scenery of the locations, the direction is definitely off-kilter in the way the modern world is presented where it’s a mixture of rich and poor where both feuding families go into these locations. While Luhrmann is known for creating images that can be very dazzling and often over-the-top at times. There are also moments where Luhrmann knows when to slow down and create something that is simple and understated such as the scene of Romeo and Juliet seeing each other for the very first time through a fish tank. The way Luhrmann presents this meeting has images that are just beautiful in the way the faces reflect in the glass as there’s a lush musical accompaniment in the background.
It’s one of those moments that shows Luhrmann’s skills as a filmmaker and as a storyteller while he finds a way to inject bits of light humor in the romance while letting Shakespeare’s dialogue flow naturally through the young actors. Even in the way he frames some of the scenes such as the scenes in the church where Luhrmann creates a lot of colorful imagery and maintain that sense of beauty and tragedy that is to happen. The use of TV news footage also helps maintain an air of suspense to establish the chaos of the feud as well as the film’s climax while both films open and end with an anchorwoman (Edwina Moore) reciting the opening and closing text of Shakespeare’s words. Overall, Luhrmann creates a sensational yet entrancing take on William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.
Cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine does amazing work with the film‘s colorful cinematography with the use of lights in some of the film‘s interior settings as well as the nighttime exterior scenes along with some lush camera work in the daytime exterior scenes such as the trailer park Romeo was banished to. Editor Jill Bilcock does brilliant work with the film‘s hyper-stylized editing with some of the fast-cutting in the party and confrontation scenes along with some slow yet methodical cuts in some of the film‘s romantic and dramatic moments. Production designer Catherine Martin, with set decorator Brigitte Broch and art director Doug Hardwick, does great work with the look of the Verona Beach with its location dressing and places that Romeo often hangs out as well as some of the interiors of the church and Capulet mansion.
Costume designer Kym Barrett does fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes at the costume party many of the characters wear to some of the colorful casual clothing that Romeo wears and the dresses of Juliet as well as some of the design of the guns the characters carry. Visual effects supervisor Rebecca Marie does nice work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects such as the minor backdrops of some of the exterior scenes. Sound editor Tim Holland and sound designer Gareth Vanderhope do wonderful work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the parties as well as the chaos of some of the film‘s violent moments.
The film’s music by Nellee Hooper, Marius de Vries, and Craig Armstrong is superb for its mixture of lush orchestration and low-key electronic music to convey the sense of action and romance with Armstrong‘s string arrangements playing out the sense of romance. The film’s music soundtrack contains an array of pieces ranging from alternative rock, pop, dance, and soul music that is an intoxicating mix to play out the sense of romance and tragedy. Songs by Garbage, Everclear, the Butthole Surfers, Gavin Friday, Des’ree, Radiohead, Kym Mazelle, the Cardigans, and many others are just some of the reasons into why the film is so full of life as it helps elevate the film’s sense of drama.
The casting by David Rubin is incredible as it includes an outstanding collection of actors for this film. In small roles, there’s M. Emmet Walsh as an apothecary who runs a pool hall, Quindon Tarver as a choir boy, Edwina Moore as the anchorwoman, Vincent Laresca and Carlos Martin Manzo Otolora as a couple of Capulet soldiers, Zak Orth and Jamie Kennedy as a couple of Montague men, and Jesse Bradford as Romeo’s cousin Balthasar. Other notable small roles include Vondie Curtis-Hall as the police authority Captain Prince, Dash Mihok as Romeo’s peaceful cousin Benvolio, and Paul Rudd as the very dorky governor’s son Dave Paris who is set to be Juliet’s husband. Miriam Margoyles is wonderful as the nurse who is sort of a mother figure for Juliet as she also tries to help create the union with Romeo. Pete Postlethwaite is superb as Father Lawrence who sees Romeo and Juliet’s love as a chance to end a feud as well as trying desperately to bring true love to the forefront.
Christina Pickles and Brian Dennehy are excellent as Romeo’s parents who are concerned for Romeo while Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora are great as Juliet’s parents where they add a sense of extravagance to their roles. Harold Perrineau is brilliant as Romeo’s friend Mercutio who is a fun-loving man who tries to defend Romeo against the Capulets and Tybalt. John Leguizamo is amazing as Tybalt as a man who hates all Montagues where Leguizamo definitely goes all out for the role of this very vile man.
Finally, there’s the performances of Leonardo diCaprio and Claire Danes in their respective roles as Romeo and Juliet. Both actors bring in performances that are just phenomenal with diCaprio maintaining that mix of sensitivity and bravura as Romeo while Danes brings a sense of awkward innocence and angst to her role as Juliet. The duo are really the highlight of the film as they have great chemistry together and definitely display chops that they would unveil in the years to come.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is a spectacular film from Baz Luhrmann that features sensational performances from Leonardo diCaprio and Claire Danes. Along with great technical work, a brilliant soundtrack, and a superb supporting cast. It’s a film that takes William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy to the modern world and make it accessible for a new audience while having something Shakespeare fans can enjoy. In the end, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is an enchantingly rich film from Baz Luhrmann.
Baz Luhrmann Films: Strictly Ballroom - Moulin Rouge! - Australia - The Great Gatsby (2013 film) - The Auteurs #23: Baz Luhrmann
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