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Maestro Movie Review

Maestro Movie Review

Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” paints the portrait of a groundbreaking artist using the classic brushstrokes of a typical biopic. As both director and lead actor, he embodies the iconic Leonard Bernstein, delivering a visually stunning yet sometimes emotionally lacking film. The screenplay, penned alongside Josh Singer of “Spotlight” fame, takes us on a journey through Bernstein’s life in a sequence of events that feels all too familiar.

Despite its traditional narrative structure, “Maestro” is a feast for the eyes and should not be missed. Its aesthetic brilliance shines through every frame. The movie’s visual elements, including cinematography, wardrobe, and set design, meticulously capture the essence of each decade over Bernstein’s 40-year timeline. Cooper ambitiously directs with an old-school flair reminiscent of films from the ’40s, adapting seamlessly as the story progresses.

Matthew Libatique, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer from Cooper’s own “A Star Is Born,” masterfully manipulates lighting to create stunning imagery, such as a simple light bulb illuminating a desolate stage. A particularly memorable scene features Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s future wife, arriving at a party where they’ll meet, captured with a sense of true cinematic wonder. The vibrant colors of the ’60s and ’70s scenes pop with life while editor Michelle Tesoro skillfully weaves together different times and locations, making the film’s transitions nothing short of exhilarating.

Cooper’s meticulous attention to detail is evident throughout the film, including his six-year journey learning to conduct a crucial scene. This scene, a six-minute reenactment of Bernstein conducting Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2 with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1973, is a testament to Cooper’s dedication. The camera gracefully sweeps across the orchestra, choir, and soloists, capturing Bernstein’s passion and ecstasy. This pivotal moment is best enjoyed in a theater before its Netflix release on December 20th.

Despite the film being steeped in Bernstein’s music, including a clever use of his “West Side Story” prologue during a marital dispute, we never truly delve into his character as a musician or a person. His larger-than-life persona, coupled with his hidden homosexuality, keeps us at arm’s length. We catch glimpses of his private moments with various men, including a poignant farewell with an ex-boyfriend played by Matt Bomer, but there’s always a sense of something missing in his portrayal.

The complex relationship between Bernstein and Felicia is touched upon but not deeply explored. Their initial chemistry is infectious, and their arguments can unfold naturally in long, uninterrupted takes. Mulligan shines in her role as Felicia, bringing depth to her character beyond the stereotypical supportive wife. However, she often remains in Bernstein’s shadow, both figuratively and literally. One striking image shows her watching from the wings as her husband conducts, his silhouette engulfing her. Despite her character’s complexity, we’re left wondering about her feelings towards her husband’s affairs with younger men. A scene where she catches him kissing a guest at a party hints at the raw emotion that could have added more weight to “Maestro.”

Much has been said about Cooper’s use of extensive prosthetics to fully embody Bernstein, particularly the pronounced nose. While some have questioned this choice, given that Cooper isn’t Jewish, Bernstein’s children have supported it. Kazu Hiro, an Academy Award-winning makeup artist known for his transformative work on Gary Oldman in “The Darkest Hour” and Charlize Theron in “Bombshell,” delivers a convincing aging effect on Cooper, especially in scenes where Bernstein is portrayed as a 70-year-old.

However, there’s a moment towards the end of the film that could be seen as questionable. Set in the late ’80s, we see Bernstein driving his Jaguar convertible while blasting REMs “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” As he speeds into the frame, the song’s lyrics shout out, “Leonard Bernstein!” Perhaps this is something the real Bernstein would have enjoyed, given his high self-regard. But in the context of the movie, it feels overly obvious and caused me to roll my eyes.

Bernstein was known for taking risks in his work, contributing to his greatness. It might have been a stronger film if “Maestro” had taken more creative liberties.

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