Maestro (2023) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Maestro ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A love story – A biopic which chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein. Out in cinemas now.

A film that comes with both Spielberg’s and Scorsese’s names attached as producers in the front credits deserves to be seen, no matter what, at least in my book.

As it happens, this also has two of the best performances of the year waiting to score awards left and right.

A lot has been said about Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose in the film, but if you can get past the pointless debate (and to be honest, it’s not that hard to do that), you will not only find this is his best performance to date, but also it’s an immersive and compelling portrayal and a loving tribute to the iconic composer Leonard Bernstein.

If you are scared about the subject matter (Leonard who? somebody may ask), don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything about him. The depth of emotion and nuance he brings to the role transcends any discussion about his  nose, and makes him instantly interesting as a character whether you know about him or not.

The dedication and commitment that Cooper brings to the role is truly astonishing. Look no further than a scene in Ely Cathedral, when he’s directing his orchestra in a one-take wonder. It is one of the best pieces of acting I’ve seen all year. A “Self-serving Oscar bait”? Maybe, but what’s wrong with that when the result is such breath-taking bravura. Certainly my bets are all on him this year.

He put his heart and soul into this Maestro, not just as an actor, but as a director too.

He shows a remarkable command of visual artistry, pacing and rhythm, guiding the narrative with precision and finesse, delicately balancing scenes of quiet intimacy and grandeur. His attention to detail and his ability to transition seamlessly between these varying scales, contributes to the film’s overall richness and depth.

Yes, his style is a time a bit showy at times, but all in the best tradition of pure Hollywood glamour. In fact, the film feels a bit retro (in the best sense of the term), like the kind of stuff Hollywood used to make in the old days.

I’m not surprised that both Spielberg and Scorsese, both great movie lovers, wanted to be involved.

The film pays homage Bernstein as a composer, as well as painting a vivid picture of the world of music he lived in during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

But this is not your standard biopic, following the well-trodden formula, the twist is how it delves into the personal and emotional dynamics of Bernstein’s life and focuses on the complicated (and very modern) relationship with his wife Felicia Montealegre, beautifully played by Carey Mulligan (if it wasn’t for Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon, I’d say Carey would be a shoe-in for an Oscar too).

Their love story and the profound influence Felicia had on Leonard’s life and career is the heart of the story. Cooper and Mulligan elevate it and make it all a lot more powerful, interesting, and ultimately more successful than it has any right to be.

If you then add the splendid production design, the sumptuous costumes and the out-of-this world make-up (here’s another Oscar coming up) you’ll get a real crowd pleaser, which only a cold cynic could falter.

Maestro is out in cinema from Friday and inevitably (way too early) on Netflix from 20 December.