Spielberg remake of a classic an instant classic

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez in West Side Story (CNS/Niko Tavernise, 20th Century Studios)

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a splendid second film version of the classic 1957 Broadway musical, charting the romance of its modern-day Romeo and Juliet, as they attempt to cross the ethnic divide that separates them. Source: CNS.

The division between the star-crossed lovers Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) is embodied and intensified by the escalating feud between the white gang to which Tony belongs (led by Mike Faist) and the Hispanic one headed by Maria’s brother (David Alvarez).

Tony Kushner’s script adheres more closely to the stage play than the 1961 movie and also amplifies the Latino flavour of the proceedings by giving characters dialogue in Spanish.

With the whole area for control of which the Jets and the Sharks compete slated to be demolished, tensions are running high. They only intensify once Tony’s pal, Riff (Mike Faist), with whom he started the Jets, proposes a climactic showdown to Maria’s brother Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the Sharks.

Tony, here a recent parolee haunted by how close he came to committing murder in an earlier rumble — the incident for which he was imprisoned — wavers between avoiding his friends all together and striving to make peace. The better angels of his nature are embodied in his kindly patron and boss, Valentina (Rita Moreno).

Moreno, of course, is a veteran of the previous production and won an Academy Award for her turn as Bernardo’s girlfriend, and Maria’s bestie, Anita — a role now taken up by Ariana DeBose.

By turns celebratory and heartbreaking, Spielberg’s masterful enhancement of the original collaborators’ already brilliant work will captivate grown-ups. If Spielberg’s take is even more kinetic than its lively predecessor, it’s also quite a bit grittier and more visceral.

Reviewed by John Mulderig, CNS

West Side Story: Starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated M (Violence). 156 minutes. In cinemas Boxing Day.


West Side Story (CNS

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