Review by Jonathan Berk
Bradley Cooper continues to demonstrate his talent both in front of and behind the camera. His directorial debut, A Star Is Born, had eight Oscar nominations, and it’s clear Cooper hopes Maestro can get similar recognition. The early part of the story is full of flashy match cuts and sweeping camera moves in a rich black and white that reminds of old Hollywood. It doesn’t take long for audiences to get swept away with the magic Cooper is setting up, but the later half of the film elevates the picture to one that surely will be full of award-season buzz.
Maestro paints a picture of Leonard Berstein’s (Cooper) life and career with a passion for music that leans on obsession. At the center of his story is a lifelong relationship with Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Their relationship and her impact on his life and career are felt throughout the film through powerful visuals and outstanding performances.
The opening section of the film has so much style and flair. There is a manic energy Leonard projects in these moments, which is tied into the camera movement and editing, making it impossible not to get sucked in. Thematically, this ties into how quickly Felicia and Leonard fall into each other. The moment Felicia enters the movie, walking from a bus to a party where she will meet Leonard for the first time, is visually stunning. Cooper and director of photography Matthew Libatique utilize a deep focus throughout the film that reminds us of Citizen Kane and allows us to be both in the moment and bystanders catching a peek at their inner lives.
While ultimately a tribute to the musical icon, Maestro doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the couple’s lives. Once the dreaminess of their initial meeting ends, the film’s style shifts to reflect this by colorizing the frame and slowing the pace. The manic excitement is no longer present, and the reality of the world sets in. It’s an impactful demonstration of a competent filmmaker using the medium to not only be visually compelling but also thematically resonate.
Mulligan’s performance is beyond awards-worthy. The emotional impact she brings time and time again throughout the film is breathtaking. So much of the film’s emotional weight rests on her shoulders, and she delivers consistently. If she isn’t nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars, it will be one of the biggest snubs ever.
Cooper also delivers an incredible performance, but he gets to be a bit bigger. A few scenes where he conducts an orchestra allow him to be emphatic. They are quite a lot of fun to watch, and he definitely gets more of these moments than Mulligan. However, there are moments where Cooper can demonstrate his dramatic chops, especially later in the film, that make his performance extra noteworthy.
Maestro is an incredible movie that will warrant a few re-watches to truly get all that it is saying. The love story in this film is hard not to fall into. It’s not a fairytale, and the hardships the couple goes through are not easily addressed. This film has many “Oscar bait” elements, but they feel organic rather than manufactured solely for recognition.
Maestro will be in theaters on November 22 and on Netflix December 20.