Monday, 16 November 2009

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

No 226 - William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
Director - Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann is a very brave man. With Moulin Rouge! he made the musical popular again (and is, for that reason, in the running for LOVEFiLM's most influencial film of the decade) and with this film he made Shakespeare not only approachable but cool.

It is always exciting to see a Shakespeare play delivered in a way that makes it understandable and relevant. It is why I like going to the Globe and watching it done by the experts. The comedies are funny and the tragedies are tragic.

This film is truly, heartbreakingly tragic. It is also a dramatic spectacle, a signature of Baz Luhrmann's gloriously OTT 'Red Curtain Trilogy'. From the film's opening moments, a flickering TV moving to a newscaster gives the opening monologue and the film explodes into the cast list. Big, dramatic and ridiculous.
Luhrmann's little flurries are everywhere.
I want to start by looking at the ball. An important scene as it separates Juliet from Paris (an unexpected cameo from Paul Rudd) and introduces her to Romeo. The scene is opulent and lavish. Gold and majestic. It also introduces Mercutio, in an amazing cameo from Lost's Michael, Harold Perrineau. The first time we see him is in sequined drag spinning and singing in an explosive drug trip. Baz Luhrmann seems to live drug trips, and this one has the same swirling insanity as seen in Moulin Rouge's Absinthe bender.

Finally, as Romeo's drug bender calms down he lays eyes on his Juliet, and here we can speak about another of the film's strengths, the casting. I think Leonardo DiCaprio is an excellent actor, especially now that he has grown a goatee and become all serious - however I think Romeo is his best role as a young pretty boy. And he is a pretty boy in this film, he looks so young and innocent. It is the same with Claire Danes as Juliet - she is so innocent, her startled eyes and constant little smile. They are the prettiest poster couple. You want them to survive and be happy. Even though you know they won't.

The fact that the characters are so likable makes the deaths so much worse. When Mercutio is shanked, for example, it is genuinely heartbreaking. The shock on his face is second to the pain and rage on Romeo's. That scene has so much emotion. So much drama. You see it for what it is, the most powerful and the most tragic moment in the entire tale. This is the point where everything goes wrong and the downward spiral begins. It is the death of the two best characters in the film. For not only does the mighty Mercutio die, so does the excellent Tybalt. John Leguizamo plays the role with arrogance and hatred and a sleazy mafiosa villainy. It is brilliant. He is brilliant. Look at him.

I find their deaths far more tragic than the titular characters. Romeo and Juliet's deaths are quite underplayed, with a relative subtleness compared to the rest of the film. Though the setting is decorated with lashings and lashings of religious gaudiness.

There isn't much more I can say about this really. The story is a classic and what makes this film special is the excellent portrayal of.
The immaculate casting (as I've described above) and the wonderful over the top scenarios. Luhrmann mixes in modern settings with religious iconography and pop culture references to great effect. A highlight of which is the choral version of When doves Cry sung in Romeo and Juliet's wedding. It is a mix which is turned up to 11 in Moulin Rouge but which just accentuates Shakespeare's story in this. The odd mix of the visuals and the sound works perfectly.

It is just a really good way of re inventing a classic story and making it enjoyable for people who have probably had to dissect it at school.
That is Baz Luhrmann's greatest triumph.


fingersandtoes said...

And my cousin won a Bafta for the soundtrack! (not that I've ever met the guy, even though he lives in London)

Soirore said...

Your review really took me back. I had a huge crush on John Leguizamo after seeing Romeo + Juliet as a teen.
I didn't like how Baz Luhrman cut lots of Juliet's dialogue though, it made the film too Romeo focused.