Two youngsters from rival New York City gangs fall in love, but tensions between their respective friends build toward tragedy.
- Tony: Ansel Elgort
- Maria: Rachel Zegler
- Valentina: Rita Moreno
- Anita: Ariana DeBose
- Bernardo: David Alvarez
- Lieutenant Schrank: Corey Stoll
- Sergeant Krupke: Brian d’Arcy James
- Chino: Josh Andrés Rivera
- Riff: Mike Faist
- Rosalia: Ana Isabelle
- Graziella: Paloma Garcia-Lee
- Velma: Maddie Ziegler
- Fausta: Andrea Burns
- Balkan: Kyle Allen
- Abe: Curtiss Cook
- Rory: Jamie Harris
- Action: Sean Harrison Jones
- Baby John: Patrick Higgins
- Quique: Julius Anthony Rubio
- Chago: Ricardo Zayas
- Braulio: Sebastian Serra
- Pipo: Carlos Sánchez Falú
- Meche: Jamila Velazquez
- Jet: Talia Ryder
- Dancer: Jamiyka Jones
- Paperboy: Michael P.J. Marston
- Boxing Coach: Atif Lanier
- Dance Chaperone: Cameron Sawyer
- Mouthpiece: Ben Cook
- Shark: Gabriela Soto
- Shark: Tanairi Sade Vazquez
- Female Social Worker: Chryssie Whitehead
- Jet: Eloise Kropp
- PR Man (Uncredited): Michael Ronca
- Flaco: Ricky Ubeda
- Jochi: Andrei Chagas
- Ice: Kyle Coffman
- Provi: Annelise Cepero
- Numbers: Harrison Coll
- Anybodys: Iris Menas
- Producer: Steven Spielberg
- Director of Photography: Janusz Kamiński
- Editor: Michael Kahn
- Sound Re-Recording Mixer: Gary Rydstrom
- Writer: Tony Kushner
- Original Music Composer: Leonard Bernstein
- Assistant Art Director: W. Steven Graham
- Executive Co-Producer: Rita Moreno
- Sound Mixer: Tod A. Maitland
- Producer: Kevin McCollum
- Art Direction: Hinju Kim
- Lyricist: Stephen Sondheim
- Co-Producer: Carla Raij
- Scoring Mixer: Shawn Murphy
- Sound Effects Editor: Steve Bissinger
- Hair Department Head: Kay Georgiou
- Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo
- Supervising Art Director: Deborah Jensen
- Production Design: Adam Stockhausen
- Executive Producer: Adam Somner
- Producer: Kristie Macosko
- Makeup Artist: Amy Sue Nahhas
- Choreographer: Justin Peck
- Costume Supervisor: David Davenport
- Editor: Sarah Broshar
- Sound Re-Recording Mixer: Andy Nelson
- Makeup Department Head: Judy Chin
- Assistant Art Director: Rachel Nemec
- Visual Effects Supervisor: Edson Williams
- Art Direction: Nithya Shrinivasan
- Art Direction: Ryan Heck
- Assistant Art Director: Marie Lynn Wagner
- Makeup Artist: Sanja Milic
- Makeup Artist: Mareike Mohmand
- Visual Effects Producer: Wendy Lanning
- Executive Music Producer: Matthew Rush Sullivan
- Supervising Sound Editor: Brian Chumney
- Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
- Assistant Art Director: Tobin Ost
- Visual Effects: Scott Balkcom
- Assistant Art Director: Michael Auszura
- Makeup Artist: Cassandra Keating
- Makeup Artist: Etzel Ecleston
- VFX Artist: Yuki Uehara
- Makeup Artist: Jill Karol
- Visual Effects Producer: Aileen Mu
- Set Decoration Buyer: Roxy Toporowych
- Art Direction: Deborah Wheatley
- Set Costumer: Megan Ehrling
- Assistant Art Director: Clarisa Garcia-Fresco
- Makeup Artist: Margina Dennis
- Set Costumer: Randi Featherstone
- Set Costumer: Tom Soluri
- Makeup Artist: Mia Bauman
- Assistant Art Director: Brandon Uloho
- Makeup Artist: Jeong-Hwa Fonkalsrud
- Art Department Assistant: Madison Pflug
- Makeup Artist: Christina Grant
- Assistant Art Director: Jurasama Arunchai
- Assistant Art Director: Larry W. Brown
- Set Dresser: Alex Ocansey
- dfle3: West Side story: Gritty morality tale with an emotional punch. 85%
Not having seen the stage production of “West Side story” or its first film version, which I understand is regarded as a classic, I really don’t have a point of comparison for this new film version of the long-running musical theatre staple. Of course, with the US being so effective at exporting its pop culture around the world, I was aware of songs and scenes from the original Hollywood film, which had positive associations for me, even though I live in Australia.
The story was inspired by a much earlier tale, which I won’t mention here because…spoilers. In any case, the second film version (presumably…at least as far as US film versions go) of this story is set in a slum in New York in the 1950s (the “West Side” of the title). The setting is very nicely established, with an opening shot of some partially destroyed buildings which a sign states are being demolished to make way for the gentrification of the area. The flats in the high-rise buildings nearby have a suitably “slummy” look without the aesthetic being overdone. From out of this no man’s land emerges what turns out be a gang of Anglo background, known as “The Jets”. You can tell that they they are bad because they soon terrorise the neighbourhood with dancing and singing, with no one daring to stop them. It has to be said, at this point, the realisation of a musical in the modern era hasn’t lost my interest. Fit young blokes dancing and singing and clicking their fingers in time in the streets of a big city doesn’t seem all that ridiculous now.
We soon learn that The Jets have a rival group which they want to remove from ‘their turf’, a gang known as “The Sharks”, which are of Puerto Rican ethnicity. The basis of The Jets’ animosity to The Sharks is basically an issue of race (and that is also the basis of the police department’s animosity towards The Sharks as well). The Sharks do not ‘belong’ in the US and they should ‘go back to where they came from’. The first encounter we see between these two rival gangs is a violent one and it’s pretty clear that things will escalate from here between them.
If you’re thinking that nothing thrown into this tinderbox could make it any more flammable, well…enter Tony (played by Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler). Tony is the co-founder of The Jets but after a stint in prison for a shocking beating he gave to an Eyptian man, he is trying to be a better person, now holding down a steady job and no longer involved in his gang’s activities. Maria is the sister of Bernardo (David Alvarez), a man who is trying to fight his way out of the slum (literally). Bernardo has a chip on his shoulder about the Anglos, who make life difficult for his community. He plays the father-figure at the flat that he shares with his girlfriend and Maria. The prospect of Maria dating a “gringo” is unacceptable to him, as we later find out when…Tony and Maria meet at a dance event and…instantly fall in love. He is also the leader of The Sharks.
That moment when Tony and Maria fall in love at first sight is very sweetly done. Maria, as played by Zegler, seems like an old-fashioned Disney princess at first, being very timid but then being quite forward…perhaps like a (modern day?) Disney princess? (Since I’m not well-versed in Disney films about princesses, I’ll have to defer to the judgement of people more informed than me on this subject.) The lyric from the song “Hurts so good” by John Cougar comes to mind about her: “you ain’t as green as you are young”. Zegler/Maria is very attractive in a winsome way. Director Steven Spielberg has really captured a winning performance from her. It occurred to me after writing down my initial thoughts on this film that Zegler would be a worthy nominee for “Best actress” at awards time. Even though I haven’t really seen many ‘quality’ films this year, I think I know a quality performance when I see one and I don’t think that a best actress award for her would be undeserved.
If you think that Maria couldn’t be any more adorable, well, you should hear her sing. She has a lovely voice, in my view. To me, she’s the standout voice of the musical. Elgort tends towards falsetto at times. On the subject of the music, I’d say that I’m pretty sure that if you just wanted to listen to the musical on CD or whatever, then there would be better versions of that from previous productions of this story, whether on stage or screen. By that I mean perhaps the music elsewhere is bolder, brassier or arranged more pleasingly (to my ears, at least) and that would apply to the vocal performances as well. However, since I haven’t heard other versions, I can’t recommend one for you.
It also later occurred to me how similar Tony and Bernardo are (which I’ve retrospectively alluded to in my earlier comments about how both of them plan to get out of the slum). Another point of comparison with Bernardo would be The Jets’ new leader, “Riff” (Mike Faist). They both mirror each other as far as attitudes to “the other” goes.
In any case, just when Tony thought he was out, Riff pulls him back in again, as far as gang activities go.
I liked this film and had moments of recognition with it, with regards to clicking fingers and many songs. One event which did jar with me was how Maria reacted to Tony when she heard some fateful news about him. It just didn’t ring true to me. Maybe with a greater passage of time it could have worked. Later, when the police officer goes over the whole timeline, the short duration was a shock too.
The film was on track for a score of 80% from me but since the drama near the end of the film elicited emotion from me, I added another 5% to my score to reflect that.
*Is the ending different to previous versions of this story? If it is, you can either read it as a return to sanity as far as character motivation goes or as a Steven Spielberg tendency.
*There is some realism to the violence, so not suitable for very young children, I don’t think.
*I couldn’t quite tell if there was some strong swearing at times or if it was toned down.
*Curios: 5c for a Milky Way chocolate bar, $15 for a fashionable store scarf, I think.