ďRomeo And JulietĒ
Itís quite an undertaking to do the original Shakespeare play in the olde Elizabethan English, and to do so with quality young main characters who arenít too old for their parts. Director Carlo Carlie coaxes some winsome performances from all the actors involved, but really, the whole effort rises and falls on the star-crossed lovers. Fortunately, they are up to the challenge.
Itís one of those movies where we all know whatís going to happen before it begins, so they canít possibly rely on plot suspense. We have to be interested in the execution and the performances.
The costumes and settings are most convincing. Damien Lewis, as Lord Capulet, gives a suitably tortured performance as the father who must order his weeping teenaged daughter to marry someone of his choosing, when she is begging him not to make her do it. Veteran character actress Lesley Manville stands out as Julietís Nurse, and Paul Giamatti almost steals the show as Friar Laurence. It is his risky machination which gives hope to the hopelessly infatuated couple, who seem to be as much in love with love as with each other, because they really havenít even known each other very long. But their kisses are ardent, and their partings areÖ.yes, such sweet sorrow.
Hailee Steinfeld, of ďTrue GritĒ fame, plays the sweet young Juliet, swept off her feet by the handsome Romeo (Douglas Booth), who is, unfortunately, of the ďotherĒ family in Verona, a town practically torn asunder by rival factions which just will not quit feuding---and fencing. Yes, the swordplay looks swashbuckling, but it also leads to death. Romeo had tried to stop a fight, but winds up holding back the sword arm of his friend, who then gets a fatal thrust from his street opponent. Romeo, enraged, chases down the adversary, and challenges him to a duel of honor. The good news is that Romeo wins. The bad news is that heís now being pursued for a revenge murder, which makes him terribly unavailable for romantic trysts with our young Juliet, who always seems to be quivering with some emotion or other.
There are those who have already argued that Hailee Steinfeld is not quite pretty enough for the role, but sheís cute, in a girl-next-door kind of way, and her warmth and energy make her more compelling to the viewer than a classic statuesque beauty, anyway.
Yes, this couple has passion. But context and events have transpired against them.
We love Friar Laurence for his optimism that a hasty private marriage ceremony just might help unite the fractured families of Verona . We appreciate his cunning in devising the complicated scheme for Juliet to take a strong sedative that will make it appear that she is dead, which will effectively nullify the betrothal to that other guy, the Prince who was Dadís choice. Romeo can then ride in from his exile (because of the manslaughter charge) and claim his fair Juliet, and they can escape together in romantic bliss.
Ah, but Friarís messenger gets held up, ironically, to do a good deed, which the young acolyte mistakenly assumes is Godís will for him. So Romeo, thinking Juliet is dead, takes a lethal poison, and Juliet, waking up and seeing he is dying, decides to join him in death rather than be without him in life. Yes, itís a colossal tragedy of mistakes and deceits, but the former estrangement is actually healed by the sacrificial deaths (Christian themes of redemption and atonement, anyone?). And love is actually more powerful than the grave, because at the end is reconciliation.
Whatís commendable about the Elizabethan language usage is that they arenít self-conscious or bombastic about it; itís just how they talk. And thereís enough physicality to communicate to the viewer, even if all the words arenít understood. Whatís interesting is how much we do understand of our own antiquated language, as if it speaks to us viscerally beneath the words themselves. Just like romance does.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephenís Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas