'Movie Review' - 'Romeo & Juliet'

Review Classic tale reborn
Modern-day 'Romeo & Juliet' a magical, visual triumph

BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer


It's a rotten shame there is no Oscar for Audacity, because filmmaker Baz Luhrmann would win it in a walk.

The Australian director-producer-co-writer of Strictly Ballroom has chucked all manner of timeworn Shakespearean conventions in his sexy, explosive, magical new version of Romeo and Juliet. At the same time, despite liberal cuts, he uses the Bard's poetry with respect.

This film is an amazing feat of ambition and imagination. William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, as it is formally known, casts the Capulets and Montagues as gangs ruled by ruthless dons in a 20th-century city of tropical heat and lethal competition.

Verona (and neighboring Verona Beach) are patchworks of decay and lurid wealth, where young toughs carry ''Sword'' brand guns decorated with religious icons and billboards advertise ''Propsero Whiskey'' and ''Out Out Damn Spot Cleaners.''

Among the many smart choices Mr. Luhrmann has made is casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the young lovers. These exceptionally talented and self-assured actors carry the intense love story without being overwhelmed by the baroque madness that swirls around them.

The supporting cast is almost uniformly wonderful, including Pete Postlethwaite as Father Laurence, Miriam Margolyes as the Nurse, Diane Venora as Juliet's histrionic mother, Paul Sorvino as her cruel father and Vondie Curtis-Hall as Captain Prince.

Mr. Luhrmann uses costumes, music, settings and camera work to make these secondary characters seem real and contemporary in unexpected ways, just as he makes the family war familiar and frightening as the evening news.

The movie weaves a rich tapestry. Its soundtrack mixes rap, rock and classical tunes. Visually, it borrows with taste and wit from opera, television, music videos, gangster movies, Westerns, even Hong Kong martial-arts masters.

The effect is beautiful, a delirious vision, a feast for the eyes and ears.

I have some quibbles with the film - Mr. Sorvino's odd accent, bad cutting in the key role of Mercutio - but those objections are minor in the face of this triumphant, vibrant, modern retelling of a treasured tale.

IF YOU GO:

William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet

4 stars

(PG-13; gang violence, teen suicide) Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes. 121 minutes. At National Amusements.