Die in a Gunfight isn’t the worst Romeo and Juliet adaptation on record, but it’s certainly not a good one.
The last thing the film world needed was an umpteenth retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and yet here we are with Die in a Gunfight, the umpteenth modern-day take on the classic love story, here courtesy of director Collin Schiffli. Adopting a filmmaking aesthetic straight out of the Guy Ritchie playbook, Schiffli opts for a hyper-stylized approach that employs everything from animation to split screens to fast-motion to overexaggerated sound effects. If you were wondering, yes, characters are indeed introduced with freeze frames accompanied by onscreen text stating their names, and you bet your ass there are hallucinatory moments taken straight out of the character’s minds that unfurl with wild abandon before the movie literally rewinds to show the situation’s reality. An argument could be made that Schiffli is simply using every trick in his filmmaking arsenal to bring life to a story that no longer holds any surprise, but Baz Luhrmann employed a similar approach nearly 25 years ago with his own Romeo + Juliet, rendering this version utterly pointless. At least Luhrmann had the audacity to keep Shakespeare’s original text intact within his modern milieu; the best screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari can come up with is such moving dialogue exchanges as: “Why was it so easy for you to move on?” “It wasn’t easy, it fucking sucked.”
Diego Boneta stars as Ben Gibbon, a bad boy and all-around fuck-up who brings shame to his wealthy family, specifically his father Henry (Stuart Hughes), the head of a powerful media conglomerate. As stated in narration delivered by one Billy Crudup, who is overqualified for this gig to say the least but smart enough to avoid an onscreen appearance, Ben has been harboring a death wish ever since the love of his life, Mary Rathcart (Alexandria Daddario), abruptly abandoned him years earlier, never responding to his letters or phone calls after moving halfway around the world. This could have something to do with Mary’s father, William (John Ralston), also a powerful media bigwig and the sworn enemy of Henry. The viewer can come to this conclusion in 30 seconds; it takes Ben and Mary roughly two-thirds of the film’s runtime. Meanwhile, there is a subplot involving a personal bodyguard (Justin Chatwin) employed by the Rathcart’s who is in love with Mary and who hires an unhinged assassin (Travis Fimmel) to take out a whistleblower who will spell doom for the Rathcart corporation. In case the thread was lost, yes, this is a Romeo and Juliet riff, and no, it’s unclear what any of that is doing in a Shakespeare adaptation except padding its scant 92 minutes.
There’s no denying that the movie is at least energetically directed by Schiffli, adrenalizing the proceedings to the point that its stupidity is never too taxing. But the biggest problem lies in the fact that none of his performers seem to be on the same page. Boneta and Daddario are pretty but vacuous entities, which isn’t exactly a deal breaker when it comes to this particular literary couple, but they also have nothing in the way of chemistry, which sinks the film from the word “go.” Fimmel, meanwhile, seems to have taken inspiration from Brad Pitt’s performance in Snatch, while Chatwin plays his part in the key of fey, seeming to believe he is in some sort of future camp classic. The tones clash whenever the various characters appear onscreen together, making for a confused and ultimately frustrating viewing experience. Die in a Gunfight probably isn’t the worst Shakespeare adaptation ever produced — even in terms of this particular story, it’s far more interesting than the absolute drek Julian Fellowes coughed up in 2013 starring Hailee Steinfeld — but one doubts it will make its way into high school syllabi anytime soon. The forced happy ending doesn’t help matters, either, even if the actors are asked to knowingly wink into the camera as it’s done. Now that is a tragedy.