Maestro Review: A Spellbinding Music Piece

Bradley Cooper has created a name for himself as a director. We’ve seen him act in many films, including this year in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and a rather hilarious cameo in Dungeons & Dragon: Honor Among Thieves. However, we’ve seen him direct with A Star Is Born in 2018, which was a huge hit. Cooper has returned with another hit in Maestro, a film that follows the life of Leonard Bernstein, a famous conductor who you may know as the creator of the West Side Story music.

The piano music pulls you into this grand, sweeping symphony. It’s a grounded film that manages to feel epic in its scale due to Cooper’s work in front of and behind the camera. Directing and acting at the same time is not an easy feat, which is why not many directors try it. Cooper brings a lot to the two very distinct crafts. Much like A Star Is Born, he makes a film surrounding music, but it’s not always fair to compare this to his previous work. Maestro features more stylish camerawork, more black-and-white cinematography, and similar to A Star Is Born, features a strong, beautiful love story at the center.

It seems this has been the year of biopics. We’ve had Oppenheimer, Ferrari, Rustin, Priscilla, Napoleon, and Chevalier. What makes this one interesting is that it focuses heavily on his marriage, sometimes putting the music and the accomplishments of Leonard Bernstein on the backburner to focus on his romantic relationships. To some, that may be a disservice to the legend that Bernstein is. However, this screenplay from Cooper and Josh Singer manages to make everything you’re watching so engaging that not everyone will mind the fact that his impact on music is left to the sidelines.

The romance between Bernstein (Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) works really well in this film. They play off of each other very well, and you get a sense of their chemistry. Furthermore, the film manages to feature overlapping dialogue, overhead shots, and smooth transitions as Cooper flexes his muscles as a director in ways that he has not done before. There’s a lot to praise about what he brings to this film from a visual perspective, especially as he starts the film in black and white and turns everything into color. When the colors arrive, they pop off the screen with a strong sense of intention and execution.

Maestro expertly weaves elements of musicals and dance into a film that deserves it. Cooper showcases a strong vision behind the camera during every bit of these sequences, but he also knows when to pull back. He keeps the camera steady during a few moments when he wants the performances on the screen to tell the story. As an actor, Cooper shows a strong ability to direct performance, which is as necessary to a director’s job as the camera movements and shots. There is a story here built out of love and respect for Bernstein, and since Cooper co-wrote this screenplay, this is his voice telling it on the page, setting it up for the camera, and acting it out for the screen.

One thing the film showcases a lot of is Bernstein’s cavalier relationships with men and women. We see his love affairs not only between him and Felicia but also with him and many other people. Every time Felicia sees him do something adulterous, Mulligan’s tragic performance shines through. We see her conflicting feelings towards him and her devastation, and the film manages to get the audience attached to the central romance. We see the trials of the relationship as they don’t always listen to each other properly, and every directorial choice Cooper makes enhances the story tenfold.

We get into Bernstein’s head a lot throughout this film, as we get hints of his depression and his love of people. Cooper’s performance is fantastic, as he uses a mixture of his own persona and a very different voice and set of mannerisms to bring his portrayal of Bernstein to the screen. It’s a very physical performance that he brings his full body towards. However, Mulligan carries so much of the emotional heft surrounding the events of this film, especially towards the ending. There are moments in this movie that hit you hard, as characters must try to find happiness even in life’s darkest moments.

Maestro is a movie that may resonate with people who have lost loved ones before, and it can send you down a whirlwind of emotions. At the same time, there is at least one standout musical sequence that uses Bernstein’s work and puts it on full display, creating a breathtaking experience. And as wonderful as the music is in this film, one of the best moments occurs when the music is taken away from a scene, and we are left to focus only on Felicia’s breath. Directing a movie is much like conducting an orchestra. Cooper creates the best of both worlds, offering a piece of art that serves as one of the best, most spellbinding movies of the year.

SCORE: 9/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to reach.

Disclosure: ComingSoon attended the New York Film Festival for our Maestro review.

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