In the city of Verona, two families have a prolonged and ancient feud. The Montagues and the Capulets co-exist under the stern eye of the Prince, but the hatred between the families threatens all, in particular the children. The young men of both families are hot-blooded and ready to fight at any provocation, despite the Prince's edict against such fights. But when young Romeo, a Montague, first sets eyes on the virginal Capulet daughter Juliet, no enmity between families can prevent his falling in love with her, and her with him. From this risk-laden romance comes both joy and tragedy for all. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo." Count Paris (Tom Wisdom)
The "woe" in this umpteenth adaptation of Romeo and Juliet over the last 400 years is that the titular lass, as played by Hailee Steinfeld, is weakly acted with immaturity, poor elocution, and disappointing physical presence. Add to that another woe: Douglas Booth's Romeo is prettier than Steinfeld with only slightly better articulation.
So, the outdoor production I saw this summer outflanked director Carlo Carlei's uneven take. However, for sets and cinematography, his production is beautiful, having been lovingly filmed in Verona. The ancient estates are astonishingly effective as horses race past old bricked walls and lovely ladies act beneath frescoes and columns that boast of nobility.
Yet the real reason to see this new production is Paul Giamatti's Friar Laurence, a benign manipulator undone by forces beyond his control. Giamatti's range from sweet confessor and cupid to perplexed operative is masterful. Look for his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
Lesley Manville as the Nurse is second only to Giamatti, a loving servant with a twinkle and a deep understanding of the lethal games. In fact, most of the supporting players such as Damian Lewis's Lord Capulet are welcome pros next to the amateurish leads.
The film, while featuring the besieged friar, also does a successful job highlighting the egregiously intense hormonal urges of young men: Tybalt (Ed Westwick) and Mercutio (Christian Cooke) have the feral ferocity of doomed warriors. Even the more placid Count Paris is waiting to let his inner soldier take over in the revenge category.
Writer Julian Fellowes bastardizes some of Shakespeare's glorious dialogue (why would anyone try to improve on the best?) and even adds rogue lines, albeit in the Elizabethan mode, such as "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Now that is not Shakespeare!
But the basic story is still the essence of intelligent soap opera, and for its endurance, even with weak leads, I am grateful. And that cinematography makes me long to return to fair Verona.
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