Shakespeare's classic tale is updated to modern day
Verona while still retaining its original dialogue.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Written by Craig Pierce and Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo,
Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Sorvino, Paul Rudd
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Oscar Nominations - Best Art Direction
What makes Shakespeare so influential to modern stories is his stories' abilities to remain timeless. Romeo and Juliet are quite possibly two of his most well-known characters, although usually people tend to forget about the tragedy part of it, considering it to be naught but a love story. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet takes the timeless play and brings it to a modern setting setting. Venice Beach in California stands in for Verona, characters carry Sword 9mm handguns (Mercutio carries a dagger, Lord Montague a Longsword machine gun), cars are prevalent, and the costumes/set design were both modernized. The Oscar nom was well deserved, but more on that in a bit.
What makes Baz's adaptation intriguing is that, among the all the lavish and modernized sets and costumes, the original dialogue by Shakespeare remains intact. This is good for people who love the beauty of Shakespeare's language (like me), but painful at times in this movie because the delivery by about half the cast is dreadful. The opening scene is painful to watch considering it is supposed to dramatically set up the conflict brewing between the warring Montagues and Capulets. Instead, it looks like a slapstick comedy with terrible line delivery by sub-par actors and nauseatingly bad cinematography. Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes perform excellently in their roles as the title characters, plus Paul Sorvino and Pete Postlethwaite bring some much-needed gravitas to their roles by showing the younger actors how Shakespeare line delivery is done.
The reason this movie got the only Oscar nomination that it did is because it is beautiful to look at but the entire product is extremely lacking considering the power of the source material. Many scenes are beautiful, however. Specifically: anytime Leo and Claire are on screen together (tears were shed in the climactic scene). Watch it for the occasional beauty brought out by the main actors' performances and the set design, but be wary of the serious problems surrounding this film like the cinematography and at times poor line delivery. And try not to cringe as much as I did when John Leguiziamo is on screen.