It is always interesting to see what each new production of this timeless classic will do to make it unique. Some recent examples over the past couple of decades have been highly regrettable if not downright offensive, but this performance here is respectable and entertaining, if not quite stellar.
The unique master stroke of this production is probably the language. The screenwriters have rewritten some of the more difficult passages of Shakespeare's language into contemporary usage to make the action easier to follow. At the same time, the beauty and power of the original language has been retained. This requires no small degree of scholarship, which the typical viewer may or may not appreciate. But to a Shakespeare fan like me, it demonstrates a real command of the Bard's cadences and imagery.
Other highlights: Some of the acting is outstanding. Paul Giamatti turns in a powerful, nuanced performance as Friar Lawrence. He is a master of the small, telling gesture. Damian Lewis is equally commanding as Lord Capulet, by turns passionate and childlike, enraged and capricious. The costumes, sets and music are beautifully rendered. It's a gorgeous film to watch. In addition, there are small tweaks to the plot twists that make the storyline more accessible to modern viewers.
Some weaknesses: The delivery by the two leads of some of the most memorable lines from this play is disappointingly lackluster and dry. This is especially true of Douglas Booth, who is stunningly beautiful to look at but lacks the vocal quality and the dramatic artistry to bring his Romeo to life. There is little chemistry between Romeo and Hailee Steinfeld's Juliet until we are more than halfway through the film, at which point her performance does improve. And their wedding night scene is one of the most beautiful, tasteful and tender love scenes I have ever seen on screen. But for a story whose drama depends entirely on the combustible passion between its two main characters, their performance is unsatisfyingly limp.
That said, I have watched this film twice now and enjoyed it both times as an interesting take on one of my all-time favorites. For me, nothing will ever match the sheer emotional intensity and power of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production of Romeo & Juliet. But this one is interesting enough to be worth adding to my collection.