Language: English And Spanish
Plot: The musical drama set in 1950's New York is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. On the harsh streets of NYC's upper west side, two gangs battle for control of the turf. However, the situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival's sister.
Review: West Side Story marked Steven Spielberg's first musical, however, the immaculate direction and set work makes it look like he has been working on the theatrical musicals for years. The film is a revised version of the 1961 adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical, the revival keeps in mind the changing world and incorporates a modern take on the love story.
Curated by filmmaker Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, West Side Story follows the Sharks and Jets two gangs in the upper west side of New York fighting for control over their turf. While the Jets are run of the mill Caucasians (Polish, Italian and Irish New Yorkers); Sharks are fighters & proud Puerto Ricans. Both young and hot-blooded kids are ready to take and give life for pride, meanwhile, their families and loved ones want nothing more than to settle in and live a happy life.
The film begins in Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1957 where most of African American neighbourhood of San Juan Hill is being torn down in the slum-clearance policy. Amid the risk of losing their land, the Jets take on the Sharks for the final rumble to take complete control of their turf. The rumble is set to take place after the school dance, however, the plans are spoiled by an ex-Jets member, Tony.
Tony played by Ansel Elgort is an ex-convict on parole, the minute he sets his eyes on petite and innocent Maria (Rachel Zegler) the frame fills up with romance and thrill, setting the route for the rest of the familiar story. What is sure to keep one's eyes glued to the screen are the elaborate sets and lighting used to bring them to life. The chemistry between Ansel and Rachel is engrossing enough to make the long ballets feel smaller and leave the audience carving for more.
However, the supporting cast leaves just a lasting impression, from Maria's friend Anita played by Ariana DeBose brings a fierce female character to Rita Moreno who played Anita in the 1961 film, and in the 2021 version is the voice of reason for the young characters. Mike Faist as Riff leaves quite the impression as a talented actor and singer along with Iris Menas who plays Anybody.
Janusz Kaminski's extraordinary cinematography brings all the dance numbers to life and turns the New York city magical in every song. Meanwhile, Tony Kushner asserts the themes of mental health, immigration, racial anxiety, abuse of police power and more with subtle grey elements to keep both sides sympathetic. Neither side likes each other and neither are at fault for hating the other. The safe game helps the leads, Tony and Maria but it also takes away the impact of forbidden love.
While West Side Story gives some of the best performances in the group of recently releases musicals, it does feel like two different stories taking place at the same time. While Maria and Tony are convinced the fight between Sharks and Jets is because of them the two gangs regardlessly seem hell-bent on killing each other. Even after few deaths the love isn't affected and it leaves you with little to feel bad about when the inevitable death takes place.
Overall, West Side Story is unmissable, but it will also leave you hoping for more, something better to fill the gap it leaves at the end.