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
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
. 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
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,
Stephenís Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas