Romeo + Juliet – Film Review

I was strongly recommended to watch Romeo + Juliet as upon conversation, I had admitted I had never seen it before. So tonight, I watched Romeo + Juliet for the first time.

Romeo + Juliet is a modern adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann of William Shakespeare’s renown play. The story is cleverly set in the suburb of Verona where two mafia gangs, the Montagues and the Capulets are at war with each other. Despite their distaste for one another, the children of both families, Romeo Montague played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliet Capulet played by Claire Danes fall in love.

At first when watching Romeo + Juliet, I was overstimulated by the colours and thrown by the modern setting of the film. It took me about 20 minutes to realise just how appropriately genius the film was. I found that I understood and was more invested in the story because it was modern. Here are two young souls who are falling for each other but can’t even publicly begin to entertain the idea of being together because of who their families are. The adults in the film are shown as the more selfish and immature of the characters, not caring for what their children want, such as Juliet’s parents forcing her into an arranged marriage. Still just kids, Romeo and Juliet’s decisions are poor, passionate and messy.

I loved the decision to make Mercutio in the film as an openly gay African-American character played by Harold Perrineau. When studying the text, I always found the character of Mercutio to be very masculine, loud, commanding and intimidating, so it was a welcome change to see the persona of Mercutio be slightly changed but still true to the play. When Mercutio was screaming the famous line, “A plague o’ both your houses!” I was genuinely pissed that his character had become collateral damage to the feud, where as in the past when reading the text, I was glad he was dead because I had found his character pushy and annoying. I did read and study Romeo and Juliet a long bloody time ago though.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes are so tiny and talented in this. When I studied Romeo and Juliet, I thought that their characters were stupid, and I didn’t understand why they made the decisions that they did. But after watching Romeo + Juliet, I feel like I understand these characters more and that they were victims of circumstances, really having no choice in their destiny. I was frustrated for Romeo when he killed Tybalt, when Mercutio died angry and cursing his family. This is not the life that Romeo wanted, and it isn’t fair that he suffers through all this heartache and bloodshed when all he wants is to do is date the pretty girl that he saw at the masquerade ball.

Not only is Romeo + Juliet cleverly modern and courageously directed without taking away from William Shakespeare’s original script, but the choices of songs in the film are great. I know I’m more than a little late to the party, but I really want a copy of the soundtrack now. Romeo + Juliet is a bold, loud and smart take on the classic tragedy and although I was hesitant at first, the film won me over in the end. 22 years later, I’ve finally seen this film. But better late than never, right?

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