November 1, 1996 -- It is a tale of madness. The madness of pride, the madness of blind hatred and most of all, the madness of love.
"William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an over-the-top modernization of the oft-filmed (there are at least six other filmed versions) classic play.
The most stunning thing about this version is the cinematography by Donald McAlpine. He uses low camera angles and dizzying trolley shots to juice up the images. He also uses fast motion often, a technique seldom used outside of comedy. It is very impressive work, but at times a bit overwhelming. The soundtrack is also impressive, but a little too intrusive at times.
The story is set in modern day Verona Beach, California. There are guns instead of swords and television commentary instead of off-stage introductions. Even with all these distractions the words, hundreds of years old, still hold the power of their timeless truths.
The love that Romeo and Juliet share is the kind that can only be shared by the young and naive. It is pure madness, pure folly, pure tragedy. There are undoubtedly those who feel smug that they would not make the same mistakes made by Romeo and Juliet. The tragedy is, they wouldn't. Those of us who have suffered the madness of love know just how easy it is to make those same mistakes.
The title roles are played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo Montague) and Claire Danes (Juliet Capulet). Both are very talented and together, they burn up the screen. Also giving fine performances are John Leguizamo ("To Wong Foo") as Tybalt, Harold Perrineau ("Smoke") as a somewhat swishy Mercutio, Pete Postlethwaite ("The Usual Suspects") as Father Laurence, Vondie Curtis-Hall ("Broken Arrow") as Captain Prince and Paul Sorvino as Fulgencio Capulet.
One might be tempted to say there is a good deal of overacting going on in this film, and maybe there is, but after all, it is all about madness, and there is no moderation in madness. But at some point, cooler heads must prevail when it comes to an assessment. It's just a little too jarring to be top notch, but it sure is powerful. Here's the rating: B.
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