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With: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Laura Morante, Tomas Arana, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Wisdom, Matt Patresi, Christian Cooke, Ed Westwick, Lesley Manville, Anton Alexander, Clive Riche, Nathalie Rapti Gomez
Written by: Julian Fellowes, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Carlo Carlei
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Running Time: 118
Date: 10/11/2013

Romeo and Juliet (2013)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fortune's Fool

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To put it plainly, Carlo Carlei's version of Romeo and Juliet is the worst Shakespeare movie adaptation I've ever seen. Admittedly I've not seen all of them, but I've seen more than twenty, and this one is the worst. It did not help at all that Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) adapted the screenplay.

It's like an "After School Special" about the captain of the football team, rather than a brooding, lovestruck poet. As Romeo, Douglas Booth looks like a handsome jock, beloved by all, who has never had a day's trouble in his life. And as Juliet, the Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld -- who was so good in True Grit -- seems too young for the part. In actuality, she is the right age to play Juliet, but she seems too young. Her face is young, and to see her character entertaining stirrings of passion for Romeo is kind of disturbing. Together they have a distinct lack of chemistry that leaves a most noticeable hole in the movie.

Director Carlei, who mostly makes TV movies in Italy, was last seen Stateside with the kids' movie Fluke (1995). He approaches Shakespeare timidly and flatly, attempting moments of awe when viewing the lovely costumes and ornate sets, but these moments simply don't work. There's no awe here. The pace is just even enough to make the play seem slow, even if you know the story by heart.

The other young actors also do not fare well, especially Christian Cooke as Romeo's pal Mercutio, who just comes across as a total jerk. The veteran actors seem out of place. Stellan Skarsgard as the prince of Verona seems to be wondering just what he's doing there, and while Paul Giamatti tries his best -- and could have been great -- as Friar Laurence, the poor rhythm of his scenes, as well as his interactions with inferior actors, cause his attempts to sink.

Historically, Romeo and Juliet has received the highest box office grosses of all Shakespeare movies. Specifically, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 movie and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 movie are the two most popular Shakespeare movies to date, as near as I can tell. I expect that young novices to the Bard will rush out and see this new one, which is a depressing thought. They'll likely be turned off to this stuff for the rest of their lives.

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