Maestro Review

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In the movie, Maestro (Bradley Cooper), Leonard Bernstein never lets a cigarette out of his mouth. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing the piano, on the phone, chatting to fans, or being interviewed, the energetic musician is rarely without one for more than a few minutes. Anxious crutch found in American composer’s tobacco which helps him hold on when people need many things from him and himself too. For all that though it may seem like an insignificant element in Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein – so what if he smokes chain? However, this habit is performed by Cooper with such an addictive flair, and Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre-Cohen puffs away with such melancholic elegance that both actors say so much about their characters’ contrasting frames of mind with just a puff, slow drag or flick.

This is one reason why Cooper’s second directorial feature is such an audacious work of cinema because it delightfully exploits cinematic language together with Berstein’s large musical catalog to give an intricate and personal account of an American icon and his most important woman. He has certainly grown up since his first film A Star Is Born and making another musical movie gave him more room for creative freedom which he used wisely.

Part I of Maestro appears as if it were a black-and-white film that would have been popular back in 1943. At Carnegie Hall during the summer semester when a guest conductor falls ill at the last moment, this young then-25-year-old assistant conductor is called up. Thanks to dramatic aerial shots tracking his movements from above until zooming in for closeup right at his face betraying childlike excitement, Bernstein effortlessly glides from his attic flat to the dress circle of legendary theatre location capturing some drama through camerawork in these scenes. Here lies what defines Cooper’s interpretation as he wholly becomes the character– not even fears over whether the prosthetic will raise even a single eyebrow. He brought giddy theatricality to it and always had a twinkle in his eye.

The rest of the film is full of Matthew Libatique’s playfully shot cinematography that is filled with Bernstein’s youthful musical and Broadway accomplishments before we meet Mulligan’s Felicia. As though she came straight from one of Bernstein’s own musicals, she gets off a bus and steps into the light below a streetlamp. Romantic framing, monotone texture, and other elements intensify this initial encounter between Lenny and her that has great chemistry which will make your heart throb too hard for you to bear it any longer.

The Cooper-Mulligan exchange sounds so naturalistic that one could almost think that they were making improvised dialogue up on set. Maybe so, since these conversations never sound contrived despite their rapid speech patterns and distinctly pronounced syllables. Nevertheless, this heightened reality – where the two young lovebirds go from sitting through On The Town to actually being part of its dance routine – does not shy away from the exquisite pain of loving such a big personality.

The movie also puts emphasis on the fact that Bernstein had intimate relationships with men; hence, Matt Bomer delivers an utterly moving performance as David who is introduced to Felicia by Lenny for the first time in a short but emotionally intense scene. Watch out for how painfully tense it feels when the old lover makes polite conversation with the new one during their meeting; however, things get even heavier as Cooper switches gears in Act Two.

The couple are now in their middle age and it’s hard for them to be together while they consider the work and needs of Lenny. The temperature has fallen and Mulligan skilfully depicts Felicia’s growing irritation, not just under her husband’s shadow but also through the deep humiliation of his affairs. This is perfectly illustrated by the selection of “Jet Song” from Bernstein’s West Side Story to accompany the arrival of a young boy at Lenny’s home. However, Cooper knows that silence can sometimes be golden and that less is more as demonstrated during an intense argument between Lenny and Felicia on Thanksgiving using a Snoopy parade balloon for comic relief.

Cooper rarely builds scenes where Bernstein conducts music; this bio-pic is about the personal lives of great artists rather than their skills in making music. However, late-stage performance displays Cooper’s total dedication to doing justice to Bernstein’s genius. Yet Maestro presents an excellent character study not only of a revered American icon but also of what it takes to love one.


The dynamic cinematic language used by Maestro appeals deeply to viewers’ hearts. Bradley Cooper made quite a transformation from a director of this caliber to the great American composer opposite Carey Mulligan with dynamite talent as his actress-wife.

Read Maestro Movie Review on Fmovies

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