West Side Story ★★★★
Starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, David Alvarez
From the moment it was announced, this years West Side Story remake was a recipe for success. First, you have one of the most beloved, balletically brilliant musicals of all time, add arguably the most successful director of all time, Mr Steven Spielberg, and then mix in a stellar (mostly unknown) cast, off the charts choreography and an authentic 1950's New York...there's no way this could be an unwanted remake.
We are reintroduced to the Sharks and the Jets, two rival gangs battling for territory, though this retelling focuses in on the lack of territory they have left to fight for.
Spielberg's direction is unbelievably assertive from the off, and his confidence to make the Jets the "villains" makes the film flow coherently. These Jets are not cool and they're not right...they're sleazy, vicious, animalistic boys. Whilst the Sharks are proud Puerto Ricans, played by incredible Puerto Rican actors, a major improvement on the some of the original film's castings.
The centre point of the story however is between loved up Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler). Zegler is phenomenal, delivering a debut performance worthy of this classic Hollywood role. Elgort's performance in dramatic moments was brilliant as expected, but I didn't feel his love for Maria; it felt creepy and a little under-cooked. Both of their vocals were exquisite however (despite the avoidance of a particular high note) as was that of Ariana DeBose, who expertly portrayed Maria with sass, confidence and unimaginable heartbreak.
The production values here are off the charts; whether it's Justin Peck's expert choreography, Adam Stockhausen's visual beauty or Janusz Kaminski's knowingly stunning cinematography, this is almost perfect and tied together in a neat bow by Mr Spielberg. He knows which characters are important, he knows how to tell this story differently and more respectively, and he knows the true power of the movie musical.
The music is exactly what you'd expect, with the basic elements coming from the Broadway musical as appose to the original film. Gee, Officer Krupke and America are the tracks that steal the show; the musicality is on point and the purpose that these songs are supposed to serve are nailed on. That being said, some numbers were sang by different characters, and they didn't always work; sometimes the intentions of the original track were lost and the song was instead left feeling cold. Cool in particular lacked the passion and energy that it theoretically creates.
This is vibrant, it's fun and it's inevitably heartbreaking. Steven Spielberg has gathered an ensemble that don't want to miss a step, and within minutes you are succeed in to a world that ridiculously still feels so culturally relevant, 50 years on.
West Side Story available in cinemas now