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Combining artistic ambition with intimate drama Maestro sees Bradley Cooper make an impressive leap forward as a director. Alas the movie as a whole doesn’t fully live up to its potential.

Maestro doesn't give a neat, tidy insight in the world of famed American composer Leonard Bernstein, nor does it apparently intend to if you go by the quote that opens the film, which reads: 'A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them.'

Director Bradley Cooper thus sets an ambitious goal in his second feature behind the camera and he is to be commended for showing glimpses of impressive artistry in the way he channels both classic Hollywood and New Hollywood in this intimate biopic that focuses on the relationship between the manic, philandering, bisexual Bernstein and his wife, actress Felicia Montealegre.

Many of Maestro's best scenes rely solely on the interplay between these two figures, with Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan both giving excellent performances, though Mulligan outshines her director on more than one occasion. Where for example the recent Napoleon biopic failed in intertwining relationship issues with personal ambitions, Maestro mostly succeeds.

The film also pleasantly surprises in not lingering long on Bernstein's major successes - the West Side Story score is used sublimely in a pivotal scene however - which is refreshing in an age of greatest hits biopics. Yet it also leaves the viewer wanting more and not always getting it, which can be frustrating.

Thus Maestro becomes a film that might invite multiple viewings - and will probably gain in appraisal - but despite its many merits so closely guards its themes and insights on the first showing you feel in equal parts intrigued and cheated.

release: 2023

director: Bradley Cooper

starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke


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