I may just never get over this movie. It was my first modern-dress Shakespeare. It's the most urgent, exciting, emotionally charged everything. It's gut-wrenchingly brutal and tragic. It's heart-flutteringly gorgeous and romantic and sexy. And it's one of the smartest adaptations I think I've seen.
Bear with me now, and take a grain of salt because I know my nostalgic <3 for this movie covers everything with a rosy glow.
Some lines are totally lost. Claire and Leo don't always bring 100% to the text 100% of the time. But they always bring 150% to the emotions. They are the most believable pair of star-cross'd lovers from the moment they spy each other's distorted eye through the fish tank. I KNOW! KISSING YOU KILLS ME EVERY SINGLE TIME!
I think this movie is incredibly smart. The way certain lines are delivered with new meanings ("women grow by men" seems to mean an overburdening of wealth rather than pregnancy), or how certain scenes are set (Mercutio hangs out on an abandoned stage all the time!), or even just how the text has been shuffled to make everything feel more urgent, seem more confused, or to highlight conflict. And I can't give just one example of that, but if I had to choose I'd say that in the midst of the death scene, where Romeo's just taken the poison as Juliet finally reaches up to greet him and she figures out what's going on:
J: I'll kiss thy lips. Happ'ly some poison yet doth hang on them. [kiss] Thy lips are warm...I just. EVERY TIME I WANT IT TO BE DIFFERENT. And this is the only movie/staging that has ever made me try to stop it every single time I watch it. It's just so awful and avoidable and STOP! PLEASE!
R: (while in death's throes) Thus... with a kiss... I die. [dies... slowly and agonizingly]
It's an amazing cast, too. John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Paul Rudd (though not so amazing as Dave Paris), Pete Postlethwaite, etcetera etcetera EVERYBODY. And Luhrman knows how to bring the imagery, the split-second switch up, the insider's know-how shot, to everything. It's such a tight production.
I think this movie gets a lot of flak for being pop-cultural, or for featuring an amateur pair in the leads - but I honestly haven't believed in young love or the tragedy that stems from this iconic pair's as much as I do in Claire and Leo's eyes. God their eyes are so expressive. And the pop-music isn't just there to sell soundtracks, it accentuates the story so well - later DVD editions were even released with documentaries about the music! Props, Nellee Hooper.
This is what people talk about when they reference Shakespeare for the MTV generation - and with this movie, it's not a bad thing. At all.