Steven Spielberg has always wanted to make a musical, some of his films even having as close to a musical number without becoming a fully fledged example of the genre. Remember the opening to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as Kate Capshaw sings Anything Goes in a Shanghai nightclub? It was lavish and extravagant, hinting at what he could be capable of within the genre. With West Side Story, Spielberg brings us an adaptation of the classic Broadway musical that has already spawned a beloved film back in 1961. No pressure then, Mr Spielberg. 

Teenagers Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), despite having affiliations with rival Street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, fall in love in 1950s New York City. 
What people need to remember when settling down to Spielberg's West Side Story is that it isn't a remake of the 1961 film, instead being an adaptation of the stage musical so there are distinct differences between both iterations. It's for the better as well because it allows the film to feel fresh as opposed to a shot-for-shot remake, Tony Kushner delivering an emotive screenplay that takes us right amongst it in New York City. 

Both the Jets and the Sharks have characters that take a back seat in the 1961 film whereas Kushner makes a lot of the supposedly side characters feel much more than that, Anita feeling much more of a prominent player here and a driving force for a lot of the film's narrative. 

Spielberg has always been a director who knows how to bring his films to life with such bravado and West Side Story is no different. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is luscious as it sweeps through the grandeur of 1950s New York City, the opening crane shot making rubble and delapidated buildings feel majestic, that is some of the best production design seen this year while Leonard Bernstein's iconic music resounds throughout with some touch-ups from David Newman. It's a feast for both the eyes and ears, and I couldn't help but have a smile on my face throughout. 
A film like West Side Story draws people in with its musical numbers and, with Kaminski delivering striking visuals and Justin Peck working wonders with the dance choreography, the film delivers these in abundance. There's such an energy brought to them all, America being the standout as the Puerto Ricans take to the streets with their bright fashion and style as the women and men make contrasting points on life in America, Gee, Office Krupke an honourable mention as members of the Jets playfully sing about reasons you could end up in a gang.

A lot of the film's narrative also hinges on the relationship between Tony and Maria, who meet and instantly fall in love. Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler don't share the greatest chemistry yet it's enough to make it believable as events play out, Zegler delivering one hell of debut performance as Maria with an incredible singing voice and innocence brought to the role. Ariana DeBose is brilliantly fierce as Anita while it's great to see Rita Moreno, who played Anita back in 1961, shine with a solo of Somewhere late in the film. Mike Faist, who stars as one of the film's main players in Riff, was one that really caught my eye as well as he delivers a performance where he has to be the big, strong leader of the Jets yet you can see the fear and vulnerability in his eyes at stages as tempers really do start to flare.

West Side Story proves that Steven Spielberg still has what it takes to deliver utterly thrilling and emotionally powerful films that will resonate with all generations. He's quite simply one of the best to ever do it and this film is one of the best of the year.

Verdict: ★★★★★


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