Friday, May 9, 2014

Romeo & Juliet (2013) DVD Review

Romeo & Juliet (2013) stars Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Paul Giamatti, Christian Cooke, Lesley Manville, and Damian Lewis. The screenplay is by Julian Fellowes. The film was directed by Carlo Carlei. This version of Shakespeare’s play is absolutely awful. It’s like they filmed the No Fear version of the play. It’s been rewritten and dumbed down so that all of the wit and most of the poetry are completely absent. Also, the relationships have been changed so that a good deal of it makes no sense (Mercutio is a Montague in this version). If you know the play well, you’ll hate this film. If you don’t know the play, you should avoid this film because it will give you completely the wrong impression of what the play is.

Act I

The Chorus’ speech is done as voice over during some kind of competition on horseback between members of the two houses. After “civil hands unclean,” the Chorus says: “And so the Prince has called a tournament to keep the battle from the city streets. Now rival Capulets and Montagues may try their strength to gain the royal ring.” And there’s a ring on a rope that the competitors must get with their lances. The red team wins, and for once the red team is the Montagues, not Capulets. But then the Prince says, “We here declare Mercutio of the house of Montague our champion.” So in this version Mercutio is not a relation of the Prince. This of course changes much of the play, and causes later scenes to not make sense.

We then go to the Capulet mansion, where Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) is playing with the Nurse (Lesley Manville) and awaiting word regarding the tournament.

Only then do we go to Act I Scene i of the play, which takes place on a crowded street. Interestingly, one person says, “The quarrel is between our masters,” leading the other to say, “The quarrel is between our masters and us, their men.” There is no biting of the thumbs. They simply and quickly engage in swordplay, while Benvolio cries, “Stop!” Tybalt arrives and advances angrily on Benvolio while saying his speech about hating the word peace. Montague and Capulet actually get in on the action in this version. And the Prince shows up almost immediately.

All of the dialogue between Benvolio and Romeo’s parents is cut. Romeo (Douglas Booth) is working on a sculpture when Benvolio enters to talk with him. There is added dialogue about the tournament. Benvolio says, “That much I found unaided” instead of “I aim’d so near when I suppos’d you lov’d.” In this version Romeo tells Benvolio his love’s name: “Rosaline.” This dialogue is really like the dumbed down “No Fear” version of Shakespeare’s text.

Scene ii begins with Capulet’s line, “My child is still a stranger to this world.” For some reason the word “bride” is changed to “wife,” which of course kills the rhyme. Why do that? And Capulet says, “Juliet is my only living child.” Stop fucking paraphrasing Shakespeare! I do love Peter’s reaction to being handed the list. Mercutio is not included on the list that Romeo reads, because again in this version Mercutio is inexplicably a Montague.

In the third scene, Lady Capulet says, “Juliet, you’re a woman now.” And that leads to the dialogue about Juliet’s age, as the Nurse says she’s not yet a woman. The sexual reference in the falling backward line seems lost in this telling. The Nurse says, “If I could live to see you wed, I’ll have my wish.” Lady Capulet then says, “And that is the very theme I came to talk about.” Seriously? The movie cuts the fun play on the word “marry.” This version seems to be cutting all traces of wit from the play. To what end? When Lady Capulet asks Juliet what she thinks of marriage, Juliet says, “I never think of it.” Yeah, that’s so much better than “It is an honor that I dream not of.” What the fuck?

The film cuts wit and poetry. So I’m actually shocked that the Queen Mab speech is left in. Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio pick up masks as they enter. All guests are masked in this version. When Romeo spies Juliet across the room, her movement is done in slow motion. Oh boy. Paris then calls out Juliet’s name, so Romeo should be aware of who she is (somehow, however, he isn’t). Then oddly, Benvolio asks Romeo if that’s Rosaline, indicating another woman. Romeo sends Benvolio to talk to Rosaline, and they have dialogue. One problem is that Rosaline is much prettier than Juliet. Romeo asks Benvolio (not the Servingman) who Juliet is (apparently neither of them heard Paris shout out her name). All of Romeo’s lines about Juliet are said to Benvolio. Romeo cuts in on the dance with Juliet, telling Paris he has a prior claim on her, leading Juliet to ask, “What claim is that?” Romeo responds, “The claim of love that ever must be heard.” So those are the first lines between them in this version. Ugh. (The film then cuts away from them, to Benvolio who is now interested in Rosaline. Seriously.)

Tybalt is seated next to his father, far across the room, and so doesn’t hear Romeo’s voice. So how does he recognize him? Capulet’s compliment regarding Romeo is cut. (Basically anything that gives a character depth is cut. This film is the simpleton’s version of Romeo And Juliet. Each character sounds one note, and sounds that note loudly and repeatedly.) There is added dialogue here.

Romeo takes off his mask, and he and Juliet run out of the room to be alone. Juliet urges Romeo, “Speak, sir.” And then Romeo takes off her mask, and finally says Shakespeare’s lines, “If I profane with my unworthiest hand…” Their first kiss is met with a rousing response from the score, making it a much more serious moment. (The score is another of this film’s many problems.) The Nurse still has the line about “the chinks,” which is surprising. Oddly, Tybalt then tells the Nurse Romeo’s identity. And so when Juliet asks her about Romeo’s identity, she knows already without having to ask someone. There is added dialogue between Juliet and Tybalt.

Act II

We see Romeo climb over the wall just before Benvolio and Mercutio enter. Most of the dialogue between Benvolio and Mercutio is cut. Mercutio merely calls to Romeo. But Romeo still says, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” That line makes no sense without the previous line. Romeo is responding to something Mercutio hasn’t said. Juliet’s first speech in the balcony scene is weak, and this version chooses the Q1 reading of “any other name.” And then Juliet says, “So Romeo would,” but doesn’t finish the line (“were he not Romeo call’d”), so it doesn’t make sense. Apparently the film doesn’t believe people understand the word “doff.” After “So Romeo would,” Juliet says, “Romeo, cast off thy name.” Juliet says, “I have not heard you speak a hundred words” instead of “My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words.” This is Romeo And Juliet for morons. It is insulting. And the serious music is irritating as well. Romeo then climbs up the ivy to the balcony so he is with Juliet rather than below her – another awful choice. This Juliet is terrible. There is no joy in her, no excitement. Juliet says: “Do not swear at all. And listen hard: Are we too rash, too unadvised, too quick?” That is awful. Plus, it cuts her important line, “I have no joy of this contract tonight.” And when she says, “What satisfaction will you have tonight,” it’s done in a wide shot, so we don’t even see her reaction. Her reading of the line is lifeless anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter. And we have unnecessary shots of the Nurse inside the house looking for Juliet. Because Romeo has climbed onto the balcony, they’re able to kiss. Wrong, wrong, wrong. She says her line, “I’ve forgotten why I called you back,” even though she hasn’t called him back in this version. Romeo has not left the balcony. And they kiss again, the music again swelling. Juliet says the “Parting is such sweet sorrow” line.

Scene ii begins with Friar saying “The Earth is Nature’s mother and her tomb” (which of course is not the line as Shakespeare wrote it). Friar Laurence is speaking to a young man, not to himself. So when Romeo arrives, Friar’s lines about the young not being up at this hour make no sense. After all, there is a man younger than Romeo standing right next to him. Friar gives a great reading of “Our Romeo hath not been in bed tonight” (he’s played by the always-excellent Paul Giamatti). After Romeo confesses that is true, the Friar with a look dismisses the young man. That’s nice, but still, the lines are dumbed down. Friar Laurence says, “I scolded you for moping like a child” rather than the wonderful “For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.” Again, the rhyme is lost with this stupid change. Romeo is given lines about the feud, which really goes against what Shakespeare had written.

Scene iii, with Benvolio and Mercutio, takes place in the Montague home. Mercutio says Romeo is already dead, but then all the lines about love are cut, so the meaning of the line is greatly changed. The idea in this version is that Romeo is no match for Tybalt. All the fun and joy of Mercutio is lacking. Partially it’s the actor’s fault (Christian Cooke is among the many actors in this film who sound but one note), but partially it’s the cutting of his lines. Plus, the direction – Mercutio and Benvolio are seated at a table, so Mercutio can’t imitate Tybalt (most of those lines are cut anyway). All of the playful dialogue between Mercutio and Romeo is cut. Basically, Mercutio has no character whatsoever, so he goes from being one of the most colorful characters in all of Shakespeare’s works to being a dullard. Benvolio tells Romeo about the challenge from Tybalt. Romeo sees the Nurse outside, and rushes out to her. Mercutio’s teasing of the Nurse is cut. But Romeo still says that Mercutio is enamored by the sound of his own voice. Not true. Not true at all in this version, as the majority of his lines are cut.

All of Juliet’s speech when she is anxiously awaiting the Nurse’s return is cut. Another terrible choice of this film. In fact, Juliet is shown seated, writing in a book, so she’s clearly not excited at all. So then the following scene where she tries to get the news from the Nurse (one of my favorite scenes of the play) doesn’t really work at all. And again, the lines are changed. For example, Juliet says, “I would exchange my bones for all your news.” Nurse’s line where she asks about Juliet’s mother is cut. Another poor choice.

In Scene v, the Friar says “violent passions” instead of “violent delights.” Why? The Nurse accompanies Juliet to Friar’s cell. The film adds the actual wedding ceremony. No surprise there.


After the wedding, we get a shot of Tybalt holding a mace, then looking at other weapons. This version’s Tybalt has but one note. That footage is intercut with shots of Romeo and Juliet kissing by a river. Then Nurse arrives with news for Juliet that Tybalt is in a rage and that she should return home. None of this is in the play, and none of it is necessary.

The stuff where Mercutio teases Benvolio is left in, which is nice. But then the dialogue is rewritten again. (Any writer who thinks he can improve Shakespeare should have his hands chopped off to keep him from such work.) Benvolio says, “By heaven, here come the Capulets.” And Mercutio responds, “And do I care?” Ugh. Tybalt then approaches in slow motion, with many Capulets behind him. Again: ugh. The word “occasion” is changed to “chance.” Romeo arrives on horse. Because Tybalt is just one note, his “Peace be with you” to Mercutio has no real meaning. A shame. Tybalt says, “turn and fight” rather than “turn and draw.” Apparently screenwriter Julian Fellowes thinks so little of his intended audience that he believes they wouldn’t know what “draw” meant. Christian Cooke (playing Mercutio) pronounces “ere” like “ear.” Whoops! Of course, the shitty director didn’t catch the shitty actor’s mistake. Instead of “put thy rapier up,” Romeo says, “put your sword down.” Again, this is Shakespeare for morons. And here everyone fights, not just Tybalt and Mercutio, which makes the scene more serious and more of a mess. Tybalt very deliberately kills Mercutio in this version, which is awful. Tybalt then even taunts Romeo. Of course, having Mercutio be a Montague and not kin to the Prince lessens the severity of what Tybalt has done (and it also takes away the reason for Capulet’s sudden haste in wedding Juliet to Paris). Romeo says, “the wound cannot be much” rather than “hurt.” The humor is completely drained from the “grave man” line. But worse is that Mercutio responds to Romeo’s “I thought all for the best.” He says, “Best intentions pave the way to hell.” And the “plague on both your houses” line doesn’t make any sense if Mercutio is of the house of Montague. Stupid, stupid movie. Did no one involved with this film understand the play? Mercutio dies right there. Benvolio does not carry him off. Romeo then tells Benvolio to stay there, then says “I have some business with a new relation,” and runs off after Tybalt. Yes, “I have some business.” Ugh. Tybalt runs from Romeo, leading him to a special place to fight. The dialogue about Mercutio is cut.

Again, Mercutio being no relation to the Prince causes all sorts of problems. Like when Montague stresses that Romeo was Mercutio’s friend. It makes no sense for him to say that to the Prince if Mercutio is not related to the Prince.

The next scene begins with Juliet and Nurse already in tears. The first line is Juliet’s “Did Romeo’s hand shed Tybalt’s blood?” So all that great stuff where Juliet is confused and thinks Romeo is dead is gone. Also, it means that the entire “Gallop apace” speech is cut. So we lose Juliet’s change from youthful excitement to despair. At least the “cousin”/”husband” rhyme is left intact. But the rest of the scene is paraphrased.

This film rewrites most of the dialogue between Friar Laurence and Romeo. Romeo is standing next to Friar when Nurse arrives. Her “Where is Romeo?” makes little sense. And of course Friar’s lines about him on the floor are cut. Friar grabs Romeo’s arm to keep him from stabbing himself.

Lady Capulet asks Capulet to give Juliet more time before marriage. Paris is not there. Capulet has to come up with a different reason for the hasty wedding since Mercutio is no relation of the Prince. And is Paris? We don’t know. Capulet is simply afraid Paris will look elsewhere for a wife soon. He actually says they’ll “strike while the iron is hot.” Then Paris arrives. And Capulet says they’ll be married Thursday. Oddly, we then get some of Juliet’s “Gallop a pace” speech, starting with “Come, gentle night.” The problem with this, of course, is that it is night. And also by moving the speech here, the tone is completely changed. (Maybe they did it because this actor is completely incapable of showing joy and youthful excitement.) It’s done as voice over as she is writing in what I presume to be a diary.

And then Romeo arrives. We have the added scene of them undressing each other for bed. Then they wake. It is clearly day. There is no rope ladder, and Juliet leads Romeo out through the gate anyway, which is odd and causes her lines about how she sees him below to make no sense. (Screenwriter Julian Fellowes and director Carlo Carlei deserve a good thrashing.)

We have an added scene of Romeo riding out of the city, bidding Benvolio goodbye. The film cuts then right to Juliet saying “What is the rush” to Lady Capulet, regarding the news of her impending marriage. Capulet (Damian Lewis) is quite good in this scene, particularly when asking Lady Capulet to take him with her. Juliet does not seek remedy from her mother before turning to the Nurse, which is a shame. We need to see that all avenues are cut off for her at home. Instead, Lady Capulet storms out without speaking. Nurse is sad and resigned when giving Juliet her advice. The scene is cut after Juliet says, “Amen.” And we go to a shot of Romeo riding his horse to Mantua. But that cuts Juliet’s change, Juliet’s moment where she realizes she can’t trust the Nurse. How do you cut that? This is Juliet’s most important moment in the entire play. It’s when she grows up and decides to take control of her destiny. We need to see the end of that scene when Juliet pretends to be obedient, pretends to have a change of heart.

Act IV

Instead, we go right to Juliet with the Friar. Paris is cut from the scene. Juliet picks up a knife she suddenly and conveniently sees at Friar’s cell, rather than having one hidden in her garments. And she has no emotion when she lifts it. Juliet’s lines about what she would do to avoid marrying Paris are spoken without emotion. The actor playing Juliet is so weak that those great lines lose all power on her tongue. The timeline is changed. Friar says, “Tomorrow’s Thursday” rather than “Wednesday is tomorrow.” I guess the filmmakers figured their audience wouldn’t be able to understand that Capulet moves the wedding forward one day. As Friar describes what to do, we intercut with shots of Juliet doing it and shots of how it all should turn out (which is actually kind of nice). The Friar changes the amount of time the effects last to “six and twenty hours.” Why?

So then when Juliet kneels before her father, that scene cuts there. Capulet does not move up the wedding date. We then have the unnecessary scene of Friar writing to Romeo and giving the letter to Friar John. Except in this version Friar John is that young man we saw earlier. Then we go to the next morning, with Capulet preparing for the wedding. He tells Nurse to go wake Juliet. Nurse goes to Juliet’s room. So here is one of the most shocking cuts the film has made. Gone is the entire speech before Juliet drinks the potion. We don’t see her drink it at all. Is it because the actor playing Juliet couldn’t do it properly? I don’t know. But that is an unforgivable cut. Paris arrives and speaks Friar’s line: “Is the bride ready to go to church?” (but he says “my bride”). Most of the lines where Capulet and Lady Capulet lament Juliet’s death are cut. What lines are left are spoken in the hall with Paris, rather than in Juliet’s chamber – another poor choice. The musicians of course are cut.

Added is a scene where Friar John – well, the novice – stops on his way to Mantua to aid a sick child (no word about the plague in this version). Added also is a funeral scene for Juliet. Benvolio sees Juliet’s body and rushes off to Romeo. (Balthasar is cut.)

Act V

Romeo is sketching at the beginning of Act V. He has clearly already been awake for a while, so his opening speech about his dream of Juliet is cut. Yet one more unfortunate cut. Benvolio enters almost immediately. Romeo actually says, “Spit it out,” regarding Benvolio’s news. The scene is rewritten. Though Balthasar is cut, Romeo has a servant named Jack. The Apothecary scene is also rewritten. The Apothecary says, “If this be murder, the answer’s no.” The scene is cut after Romeo says, “I pay your poverty and not your will.” Then we see Romeo and Benvolio riding back to Verona.

The Friar John replacement then arrives in Mantua, asking for Romeo (yet another added scene). He tells Jack that he saved a child.

Romeo gives Benvolio the letter to deliver to Montague. He also tells Benvolio he has to return Juliet’s ring to her (again, quite different from the play). Paris is there, but his Page is cut. (So who calls the watch?) Paris speaks lines not written by Shakespeare. Paris even identifies himself: “I am Count Paris and I here defend the grave of she who should have been my bride.” Geez. In the play, Romeo doesn’t know his identity until after he’s slain. Paris has no dying words. He doesn’t ask to be placed next to Juliet. So basically the moments where we would feel something for him are gone.

Then we go to Benvolio knocking at Friar Laurence’s door. (In the play, Friar John tells Laurence about the undelivered letter before Romeo and Paris fight.)

Romeo sees Tybalt before he sees Juliet. After “Depart again,” Romeo goes right to “Eyes, look your last,” cutting some of the speech’s best and most famous lines. More lines are cut, including the “desperate pilot” line. Just before he drinks the poison, Juliet’s hand twitches. And she opens her eyes right after Romeo drinks, unlike the play (but like the Baz Luhrmann film). So they kiss before he dies. So he says “Thus with a kiss I die” to her. It is then that Friar arrives. So obviously her lines asking where Romeo is are cut. Friar says, “Oh no, oh no.” (Indeed. I was saying that throughout the entire film.) Juliet goes to drink from the vial while Friar is still there, and he grabs it from her hand and smashes it on the ground.

Juliet says: “You go. I must bid farewell to Romeo.” That implies she won’t kill herself. In the play she says, “I will not away.” In this version, she is misleading the Friar. Friar says, “Stay then until you are at peace.” So this really takes away from the weak, frightened aspect of his character, and away from his guilt. Another poor choice. He even says, “I will hold back the watchman.” Juliet says, “Your mouth is warm” instead of “Thy lips are warm.” Juliet then says, “Somebody’s coming,” and pulls out Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself. Friar Laurence leads the watchman down into the tomb.

The film then cuts to the next day rather than letting the scene play out at night. And so the Friar’s explanation is cut (as is Romeo's letter, though it was mentioned earlier). Instead the scene begins with the Prince saying, “We know now how this sorrow came about, and pardon all the players.” Friar actually says a line that their forbidden love did murder them. This movie just refuses to stop being awful. By the way, Lady Montague is still alive in this version. The Prince calls Capulet and Montague forward, then says, “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate.” The Prince’s line about losing a brace of kinsmen is cut, since Mercutio is a Montague in this version. But that also means we lose the Prince admitting some culpability in the events (“And I for winking at your discords…”), which is a shame. Capulet and Montague embrace, but make no promises of gold statues. Instead, there is another funeral scene. And in voice over we get the last speech. Except the first line is cut, so no “glooming peace.”  Benvolio then goes up to the corpses and joins Romeo’s hand with Juliet’s. And that’s the end. Fucking terrible. I want to physically hurt Carlo Carlei, who directed this, and Julian Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay. They’re the ones who should be punished; all others may be pardoned.

Time: 118 minutes

Special Features

The DVD includes some behind-the-scenes footage. In Romeo & Juliet: The Filmmaker’s Vision, there are interviews with director Carlo Carlei and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Julian Fellowes says: “The play needed to be accessed for the new generation and made simpler in a way, but also more straightforward. And we’ve tried to tell the story in a way where you’re never puzzled as to what is happening.” Fuck you, Julian.

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