It’s a rather interesting fact to consider that one of the most prolific and successful writers of cinema, the youngest of arts, died nearly 400 years ago. Whether this attests to Shakespeare’s talent or to the lack thereof in modern writers is at each one’s digression; what is to be noted that from loose interpretations (such as THE LION KING) to strict adaptations (such as anything bearing Kenneth Branagh’s seal of approval), there is an ocean of variations in between. One such variation was successfully brought to the table by Baz Luhrman’s 1996 ROMEO +JULIET, in which the original text is bluntly put into a modern setting. The only thing Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut adds to this is the knowledge that Luhrman’s success was probably an exception, and that the sound of AK-47s and lines such as “Hear’st thou Mars?” do not mix well.
It would have probably been a privilege to see Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox act it out on stage, since their immersive acting is amongst the few redeeming qualities of this film; despite the fact that some of their lines were unintelligible, a defect which generally plagued most of the other actors. Some of the war sequences were truly impressive and profound in their uncensored brutality, and the recurring news-reel images of protesters being harassed by army forces evoked the ones we’ve seen from Libya over the past year, a vein the film, unfortunately, did not decide to follow.
Had the producers updated the text along with the setting, sans a few lines, it would have probably been an engaging experience. Under these circumstances, however, the two repel each other like oil and water, making the motivations of the characters and over-all plot not only confusing but even illogical to modern viewers.
Probably a treat for die-hard Shakespeare lovers, but the general feeling is that someone dubbed a very good war-drama with the text from the play.