Maestro (2023) – Film Review
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Maya Hawke
By Roger Crow
Making a biopic of a genius composer-conductor like Leonard Bernstein was never going to be easy. Do you get two or three actors to play him at different stages of his life, or one guy with some good make-up? In the case of Maestro, the latter, though the fact Bradley Cooper plays Bernstein has led to some controversy as you’ll have probably read elsewhere.
Bernstein was a complex character, juggling his work with a complicated love life. It seemed he loved everyone and everything, and had a tricky time hiding the fact, especially from his wife when a new guy caught his eye.
From the opening featuring a seasoned Leonard, we flash back to the early days shot in sulphurous black and white. The dialogue has a machine gun patter, with actors barely pausing for breath. And the cast is terrific, including Maya (Stranger Things) Hawke as his daughter, Jamie. However, it’s really a film about two performances: Carey Mulligan, who gives a Best Actress-worthy turn as Felicia, aka Mrs Bernstein, and Bradley, whose make-up is so good, especially in 4K HD, you really can’t see the join.
And there are times when he really becomes the genius who breathed life into West Side Story, and so many other beloved classics. Like John C Reilly in Stan and Ollie, it’s a remarkable experience watching him do his thing, embodying an acclaimed artist, while also directing the film he co-wrote and produced. How good Cooper’s tea-making skills on set were we can only imagine, but I imagine it’s one of the best cuppas you’ll ever taste.
One scene where Bradley conducts an orchestra (crucial to the film’s authenticity) makes you wonder whether he could do it for real. I’m guessing the answer is a resounding yes.
When Brad picks up an armful of gongs on Oscar and BAFTA night, naturally a new wave of viewers will warm to his latest movie. If nothing else, it’s proof that Cooper’s take on A Star Is Born was no fluke. And this also features a tear-jerking third act which generates that all-important sucker punch. Be warned: hankies will be required.
“You will have to keep up”
The cinema verite style, with locked-off cameras, creates a naturalism reminiscent of Woody Allen’s best works. And it’s a lot easier for an actor/director to shoot a scene when they don’t have to worry about tracking from A to B.
You will have to keep up because there’s no spoon-feeding regarding the era. No title cards to tell you when we are, but like all film makers who treat their audience with respect, the rewards pay dividends. I can only imagine how Cooper is going to top this, but then again, that film’s title doesn’t just refer to the character at the heart of the drama but the man playing him. Yes, he’s that good.