If you’ve ever seen and enjoyed Baz Luhrmann’s kinetic Romeo + Juliet (1996), you’ll probably enjoy Die in a Gunfight. Like Luhrmann, director Collin Schiffli updates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for a contemporary audience. Although the result is a mixed bag, Schiffli gets it mostly right.
The film reminded me a lot of the recent Gunpowder Milkshake, and not just for the now-familiar diner scenes. Schiffli shares a common visual palette with Gunpowder Milkshake’s Navot Papushado, resulting in a similar look-and-feel. Screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (who collaborated on Ant-Man and the Wasp) take the Bard’s basic framework but infuse it with a manic sensibility and some over-the-top action. So it’s definitely not a faithful rendering of Romeo and Juliet by any means.
The setting isn’t Verona, but the vaguely named New City. Two wealthy families – the Rathcarts and the Gibbons – control the city’s two largest media empires. They have a centuries-old “blood feud” that sees each family trying to destroy the other. However, then-teenagers Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta) and Mary Rathcart (Alexandra Daddario) defied their families and fell in love. That resulted in the star-crossed lovers being separated by an ocean, with Mary being shipped off to school in Paris. Now she’s back. Ben and his best friend Mukul (Wade Allain-Marcus) crash a Rathcart party but it soon becomes apparent they’re not welcomed by either family. But despite a violent beating, Ben spies Mary.
Their love re-kindled, Ben and Mary seek way to escape the toxic rivalry infecting their families. But it’s not that easy. While Mary was in Paris, her father William (John Ralston) sent the ruthless Terrence Uberhal (Justin Chatwin) to keep an eye on her. Uberhal wants to marry Mary – something William will agree to in exchange for Uberhal taking care of a whistleblower who’s threatening his business. Uberhal engages hitman Wayne (Travis Fimmel) to do the deed; but an encounter between Ben, Wayne and his girlfriend Barbie (Emmanuelle Chriqui) complicates things.
Schiffli keeps a generally tight directorial rein. A couple of flat spots aside, he keeps the film romping along with a zany energy. He also skillfully incorporates some stylish animation in the early part of the film. This adds an interesting visual element, while also advancing the plot. In the final church scenes, things get a little out of hand. But I guess that’s only to be expected in this genre. Magdalena Górka’s cinematography blends neon and noir effectively, while Ian Hultquist’s score is unobtrusive (or perhaps just overwhelmed by the action).
I struggled a little with Diego Boneta (Terminator: Dark Fate). Maybe it’s just that his character as written isn’t all that likeable, or maybe its some of his similarities with Justin Chatwin as the nasty Uberhal, but I didn’t warm to him. Alexandra Daddario however just about carries the film as Mary. But Travis Fimmel steals the show (complete with broad Aussie accent) as eccentric hitman Wayne.
Die in a Gunfight fits neatly into that sub-genre of comicbook inspired neo-noir that seems to be having a moment right now. I didn’t feel like it ticked every box for me, but Schiffli’s energetic direction and an enthusiastic cast make this an entertaining distraction.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television