Romeo + Juliet (1996) / Drama-Romance
aka William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 120 min.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Rudd, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jesse Bradford, M. Emmet Walsh, Jamie Kennedy, Des'ree (cameo)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Craig Pierce, Baz Luhrmann (based on the play, "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare)
Review published June 28, 1997

You know the story -- sort of.

Two warring families are vying for control of the city called Verona Beac.  The families are the Montagues and Capulets, who bitterly despise each other, resulting in a police state to try to keep the peace. During a party at the Capulets, Romeo (DiCaprio, The Quick and the Dead), a Montague, meets Juliet (Danes, Little Women), a Capulet, and the two find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet grounds at night for a chance to talk to Juliet, and the two quickly become an item. However, the families of the two lovers will have none of it, and they find their future plans for a romance to be a dangerous prospect indeed.

Taking the classic Shakespeare play and setting it in modern times does make for some very awkward moments, especially during the artificial opening scenes depicting the confrontation between the Montague and Capulet boys. Luckily, once the romance appears, the film hits its stride beautifully, with spot-on portrayals by DiCaprio and Danes in the lead roles.

The cinematography and editing delivers lots of style but little substance.  The virtuoso aspects of Baz Luhrmann's (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge) direction takes some adjusting to, but it's quite effective in certain key scenes.

Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet may not be the best film version made of Shakespeare's masterpiece, but it's certainly a refreshingly conceived departure from the norm.  It's a mostly visual presentation of the Bard's literary masterpiece, but oh, what visuals!

Qwipster's rating:

1997 Vince Leo