One always has to be ready when faced with films directed by actors, especially if we are talking about actor-stars, because with their fame and careers already secured they often and often feel free to dare, to challenge custom, to dodge the banal. In this case it goes double for Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, which was presented at the 2023 Venice Film Festival (from which it came out empty-handed) and is already a strong contender for the 2024 Oscars, the movie debuts today, December, 20 exclusively on Netflix.
After the planetary success of A star is born, his first film written, directed and starring released in 2018, the star of American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook joins forces with the well-known on-demand streaming platform – and with the putative fathers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, co-producers – for a film about the life and career of Leonard Bernstein, legendary New York composer and conductor celebrated in the world of theater but historically linked to moviews for the soundtracks of On the Waterfront and above all West Side Story (of which Spielberg himself made a glorious remake in recent times).
Bradley Cooper, music Maestro
As has already been the case for Ben Affleck, returned this year with the beautiful Air (if you missed it, here is our review of Air), even Bradley Cooper draws from classic American cinema (literally embodied by the figure of Bernstein, but also by the biopic genre and the 4:3 format) while reconfiguring it for the latitudes and longitudes of modernity. A bulimic, somewhat melodic and very biopic movie, focusing as much on the scenes of the complex marriage to Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) as on the work ethic of the composer, interested in reflecting on both the cannibalism of the chosen artist and the regrets of the ordinary human being.
In the constant alternation between the use of color and the monochromatics of black and white (but without the disorienting inventiveness of Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan but, indeed, with the use of the classical matrix flashback), Master is a film that attempts to talk about every aspect of its protagonist subject (whom Bradley Cooper portrays through multiple styles, multiple outfits, multiple ages, multiple hair and makeup), restoring a picture that is more general than particular, an impression more than a detail.
It is the opposite model of biopic than that offered by Michael Mann’s Ferrari (here is our review of Ferrari), which, instead, on the particular is built from beginning to end, and is neither as millimeter-like as David Fincher’s Mank nor as imaginative as Andrew Dominik’s Blonde. However, behind its cumbersomeness Maestro hides the desire to encapsulate in two hours and a little more all the complexity of a life, for an admirable attempt with more than appreciable success.