By Gary Murray

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth and Paul Giamatti

Written by Jullian Fellowes

Based on the play by William Shakespeare

Directed by Carlo Carlei

Running time 118 min  

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film Rating Matinee


The story of Romeo and Juliet is almost as old as fiction.  Shakespeare adapted the work from the ancient Greeks.  In the film era, the work has been put on since the silent movie days.  It has been done modern such as Romeo + Juliet, West Side Story and even with robots Romie-O and Juliet-8.  Arguably, the best cinematic rendition was the 1968 version that starred Olivia Hussey.   Carlo Carlei, the director of Fluke and The Flight of the Innocent takes on what make the Bard’s more produced work.

The story is a tragedy of two families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s.  They have a bitter feud that has spilled over the streets of their beloved city.  The Prince of Verona (Stellan Skarsgard) forbids the two families from confronting each other. Our film opens with a competition on horseback and joust mount.  It is the most exciting event of the work.

Romeo (Douglas Booth) sneaks into a party and sees the young, faire Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld).  There is an instant attraction between the two.  She has been recently promised to Count Paris (Tom Wisdom) but she is smitten with the young ‘forbidden fruit’ of her family’s enemy. 

Very soon, the two young lovers are sharing a scene under the balcony.  Romeo confides with Father Laurence (Paul Giamatti) and Juliet with her nurse (Leslie Manville).  Both of these secondary characters understand both the pangs of blooming love and the political and social threats this love will produce.

The film flies toward our tragic ending with certain haste.  Writer Jullian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) has put into his script much of what Shakespeare wrote but still putting his own spin upon the proceedings.  It is a dangerous game he plays, messing with the Bard, but he is mostly successful with his screenplay.

Hailee Steinfeld who was brilliant in True Grit is woefully miscast in the role of Juliet.  Where the character is supposed to be the personification of young love, she looks like a little girl playing dress-up.  Even though she reads the lines, she never puts life breath into them.   She has shown much promise as a teen actress in Hollywood, this is not her work.

Douglas Booth looks the part of Romeo, young lively and handsome but the actor cannot act his way out of a paper bag.   We never believe his tears nor his fears during the execution of the script.   His reading of the lines is wooden and he is out-acted by Kodi Smit-McPhee time and time again. 

It has been said that casting is 80% of directing, so director Carlo Carlei did not do his job.   He handles some of the scenes with the seasoned actors well, but cannot find that elusive spark needed for his leads.  With Paul Giamatti performing at such a high level, one has to wonder if it the skill of the director or the skill of the actor that is presented.   

On the plus side, the costumes are just stunning and the scenery is breath-taking.  The city of Verona is gigantic in scope and the camera of Douglas Brooks frames every inch with a certain regal majesty.  The costumes are magnificent, a blending of leather and lace with a true emphasis on ancient style.  Both are sure to get some Oscar nods.  But, great costumes and backdrops do not make a great flick.

This newest rendition of Romeo and Juliet will never replace the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version or the stylized 1996 version by Baz Luhrmann.  It is at best a fair reading of the material that may generate a buzz with the young literate teens who think Star Wars is ancient cinema. 

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