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Directed by Bradley Cooper
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Bradley Cooper, Martin Scorsese, Fred Berner, Kristie Macosko Krieger, and Amy Durning
Written by Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer
With: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman, Michael Urie, Brian Klugman, Gideon Glick, Sam Nivola, Miriam Shor, Alexa Swinton, Josh Hamilton, Zachary Booth, and June Gable
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Editing: Michelle Tesoro
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Runtime: 129 min
Release Date: 20 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.33 : 1
Color: Color

Bradley Cooper throws his heart, soul, and physicality into cinema's least inventive genre, the biopic—though this particular film is far more a marriage story than a historical biography. Cooper stars as the legendary American conductor, composer, pianist, and music educator Leonard Bernstein. Carey Mulligan stars as his lovely and intellectual actress wife, Felicia Montealegre. The two stars give passionate performances, full of high-speed '40s-era mid-Atlantic cosmopolitan movie speak. It's both intense and wildly entertaining to watch these two glide through dreamlike physical structures and scene changes, emote in tight close-ups, and confront each other in long wide shots that allow entire scenes to play out within their static frames. The make-up used to transform Cooper into Bernstein at various ages is quite possibly the best use of realistic prosthetics I've ever seen. The make-up is helped, of course, by Cooper's ability to adopt Bernstein's unique voice and mannerisms convincingly. I loved watching these performances, but Maestro is, even more than a typical biopic, a movie about performances more than a film that tells a story.

Unlike a typical Hollywood biography, which heightens the drama of a life while condensing a person's essence down to a series of contrived set-up/development/payoff narrative situations, Cooper seems bent on stripping all the melodrama out of this rather fascinating and unique existence and giving us just pieces of each subplot—beginning, middles, or ends. The result doesn't solve the genre's problems any more than focusing almost solely on the central relationship captures what was most distinctive about this man or this woman. But the film is captivating nonetheless. The 35mm cinematography, shot in black and white for the 1940s and color for the later decades by Matthew Libatique (Inside Man, Iron Man, Black Swan, and Cooper's A Star Is Born), is luminous and beautifully textured. The costumes by Mark Bridges (The Artist, Phantom Thread, The Fabelmans) are elegant without ever obtrusively announcing the decade in which a specific scene takes place. The music, by Bernstein himself, is, of course, both gorgeous and exhilarating. Still, it's odd to end up feeling underwhelmed by a film filled with such intense and extreme emotions.

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Cooper and Mulligan give thrillingly committed performances as Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre, but Cooper's qazi-biopic is far more interested in performances and surface details than in telling a complete, satisfying narrative.