Steven Spielberg's West Side Story is simply put - incredible. In addition to the film being incredible, this might be at the top of Spielberg's film list, which is impressive, to say the least. Throughout all of the impressive and iconic songs, the wonderous and magical dance sequences and choreography, through the truly amazing performances and vocal work in each song, and into the magnificent artistic eye of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Catch Me If You Can) - Spielberg's vision of West Side Story is one for the ages and might just be the rare perfect film. It's no doubt that Spielberg has a ton of that cinematic magic left in him because West Side Story is most triumphant. MUST-SEE!
West Side Story hits theaters Friday, December 10th - Order Your Tickets on Fandango!
Spielberg has made a smattering of films in different time periods and varying genres from family-friendly science-fiction to dramatic character studies, to action-packed war films, to even period piece biopics. He traveled to the land of dinosaurs and made everyone care for life on other planets. But never has he done a musical before with the small exception of the opening "Anything Goes" number at Club Obi-Wan in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Since then, a lot of people, including Spielberg himself have been clamoring for the legendary filmmaker to make a musical. One of his favorites is West Side Story and the time finally came for him to take the reins and make his version.
He didn't take the job to improve on the already wonderful original film from Robert Wise. Those actors and infectious songs from the late Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein are still as popular today as they were when they hit the stage. Spielberg simply wanted to show his vision for the story, which is a story that's been remade and redone countless times since the age of Shakespeare. That famous Shakespeare story Romeo and Juliet captured audiences when it first was shown all those centuries ago and many artists have remade those worlds from the iconic playwright in a variety of different ways. West Side Story is one of them, but with an updated story on two different factions of people living in NYC where the government is trying to move out immigrants and people of color from their neighborhoods.
That topic was an issue back when the original West Side Story was released and it's still very relevant today. With Tony Kushner's screenplay and Spielberg's direction, the same themes and tone from that original film still hold up today, maybe even more so with the reality of where race, law enforcement, the class system, and immigration are top news points all these decades later. This is where Spielberg makes this timeless story and wonderful vision highly entertaining and even more important with modern audiences and the current times. It's pure magic that's come alive on screen as two young people from very different backgrounds fall in love who are not supposed to.
The performances in West Side Story are utterly stunning, with each performer delivering a character that is memorable and wonderful. This is relatively a crop of new talent, which Spielberg has a penchant for discovering young, new future A-List stars. There is no doubt that most of the actors here will be in big films and win awards for years to come. On that top of the list is Rachel Zegler who plays Maria. She is the film's bright light and emotional core. She makes the film worth watching in each scene with her vocal work, dance choreography, and emotional transformation of love and loss. It's simply incendiary. Ariana DeBose plays Anita is just plain perfect in the role, bringing some new fire to the role previously played by Rita Moreno. Her charm and emotional ideals are such a treasure to watch unfold with her strong, passionate voice and choreography that is as feisty as her character is. Mike Faist as Riff and David Alvarez as Bernardo will soon be the best actors around town and in a ton of films because their respective performances as the lead Jet and Shark are pitch-perfect. Their pure emotion to what they think is right on either side of that line is fantastic, both showing their vulnerability and ferocity in what they believe.
Then there is Ansel Elgort, whose recent turbulent personal life doesn't have an effect on his performance. He's excellent as Tony with his wonderful voice, dance moves, and stoic emotion with Maria. But everyone in the cast elevates his performance to a greater degree because the co-stars are just that good and project a more intricate character than that of the straight-laced Tony. And of course, there is Moreno who has come back in the role of Valentina, where Spielberg has chosen this character to sing a very powerful version of "Somewhere". It's one of the big emotional moments of the film and it plays out nicely. All these elements come into play to make the perfect image on the screen, which Spielberg allows himself to choose different locations and spots for songs to play, which has only enhanced this version of the film.
As the two gangs fight over abandoned buildings and a fallen down city, it's easy to see how this runs parallels to today's society with police, citizens, and the criminals trying to overcome their living situation, which may not make any real difference when the government gets involved anyway. Another great creative choice was that Spielberg chose not to include English subtitles during the Spanish-speaking sequences. This move is to allow all audiences to capture every detail of the incredible nuanced performances inside the actors along with all the spectacular visuals.
And to be honest, most everyone knows more Spanish than they think and will have no issue with understanding what's being said on screen. It's a way to connect people of different backgrounds with language and Spielberg did this perfectly here, as he has with most of his films, whether it be a boy communicating with an alien from outer space, a set of music notes to talk with an alien race from far beyond the planet Earth, or even soldiers truing to navigate different languages in finding someone special to send home. Spielberg is a maestro in this regard - unifying people and other beings no matter where they come from.
Janusz Kaminski's beautiful artist's eye is the backbone of this visual masterpiece. Everything feels like the golden age of Hollywood in its cinematic and epic appearance as the camera hovers over a torn-up city in dance and music. It's simply beautiful in every moment that feels grande, pretty, and dangerous all at once. Spielberg has clearly hit a grand slam with this as every element has come together to make the perfect film. West Side Story is as important as it is entertaining. Simply put- it's the best.