Leone-style face-off between gun-toting gangs at a gas station: outright street warfare is evidently imminent, which presents something of a problem for young Montague when, at an absurdly extravagant costume ball thrown at the Capulets’ mansion, he falls head over heels for Juliet. So starts ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’.
Baz Luhrmann’s gleefully cinematic version of the play is so relentlessly inventive and innovative, it takes 20 minutes to get a grasp on how appropriate is his approach to the material. Bravely (but sensibly) sticking with the original dialogue, Luhrmann makes the central element of his audacious adaptation visual: as the camera races wildly around, or rests on luminous close-ups and ornate tableaux, the striking sets, costumes, characters, the colours and compositions serve perfectly to evoke the forces of wealth and poverty, love and hate, power and pride, prejudice and superstition that infest the chaotically sprawling post-punk, post-industrial, multi-ethnic world of millennial Verona (Mexico City and Vera Cruz, heavily made over). Fine as the rest of the cast is, it’s DiCaprio and Danes – both of them vulnerable, innocent, impassioned and beautiful – who steal the honours.