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Drama, thriller, comedy, horror, war, science fiction, crime, adventure, action, fantasy, romance, biography, animation. Since his debut half a century ago, Steven Spielberg has touched all of these genres. When Spielberg finally made his way into the musical, which he had been dreaming of for a long time, I was not surprised. There is no director as complete as him.

Even so, his decision to make West Side Story is quite a question. Based on the stage musical of the same name, the previous big screen adaptation (1961) was a resounding success. Winning 10 Oscars (including Best Picture) from a total of 11 nominations, and earning about 6 times the production cost, is a new version really needed? Top Movie Site

Honestly, the first few minutes were a bit dubious. West Side Story (1961) has one of the best opening sequences in the history of musical films. Blessed with a cast with superhuman physical abilities, the film, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, creatively choreographs all events, including fights between gangs.

Spielberg appears simpler, more conventional, safer. Quite disappointing. However, as we are brought into the setting of 1950s New York with its various conflicts that are still relevant today, it becomes clear that this new version is superior.

Once upon a time, there were two gangs fighting over territory, namely the Jets under the leadership of Riff (Mike Faist) which was filled with white youths, and the Shark led by Bernardo (David Alvarez) and consisted of Puerto Rican immigrants. Then, similar to the story of Romeo and Juliet, which became the inspiration for his stage play, the feud of the two camps became more complicated when the seeds of forbidden love grew.

Tony (Ansel Elgort), Riff’s best friend and co-founder of the Jets who tries to “live straight” after getting out of prison, and Maria (Rachel Zegler), Bernardo’s sister, fall in love with each other from the first meeting at the dance. Of course, their relationship was met with great opposition from all parties.

Appearing more faithful to the stage play than the 1961 version, especially in terms of song sequences, the script by Tony Kushner (who has twice written for Spielberg in Munich and Lincoln), cleverly modernizes the story, by adding to issues that are not yet there, while deepening what is previously still appear “shy”. Best Movie

The issue of racism is strengthened. There is no more solidarity between gangs. In the 1961 film, despite fighting over territory, the Jets and Shark tend to protect each other when the authorities intervene. The Jets only care about power. Not race. This time, the impression appears that the Jets’ hatred is also a form of rejection of immigrants, which is more realistic.

The great theme of the endless cycle of violence is getting wider and wider. About the unbroken chain of vengeance that only leads to death, about the possession of weapons based on mutual suspicion and hatred, about the injustice of the system which results in perpetuating the culture of violence.

Regarding the characters also underwent modifications, both individual characterization, and their interactions. Especially regarding gender. Anybodys (Iris Menas) is no longer “just” a girl who wants to join a male gang, but is transgender, making her name more meaningful (it isn’t about a particular somebody, but anybody). Maria became more empowered in front of Bernardo, standing firm in defense of the argument, even replying to her brother’s words. Even the film explicitly mentions “rapists”, when the Jets gang harass Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s lover, as a form of rejection of justification for rape in any form.

There is one more interesting point about gender. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 version, here appears as Valentina, replacing Doc (Ned Glass). This gender change is not only a form of respect for the legend, it is also used to strengthen the emotional impact of the narrative, as a mentor who forges a stronger bond with Tony, as well as a figure who voices his frustration at the lack of a safe space for women.

The 156-minute duration is really used to compose a rich story, complete with solid pacing, in which Spielberg and Kushner are able to avoid the shortcomings of the 1961 version which often lingers in one event.

What about the musical itself? Accompanied by classic songs that are increasingly polished, Spielberg shows the true definition of “update” and “upgrade”. America’s rendition became one of the most striking when moving the rooftop background to a public space, making it more lively, more uplifting, as well as providing a big stage for Ariana DeBose to show off her charms.

Zegler with a smile and sparkling gaze can melt hearts with his debut, but DeBose is the best performer in this film. Playing a woman full of dreams and optimism, who is then hit by a heartbreaking reality, her energy is stinging, the overflow is piercing. Especially in his duet with Zegler at number A Boy Like That / I Have Love as an emotional exchange that touched both of them. At the 1962 Academy Awards, Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita. It’s worth waiting to see if 60 years later, DeBose will repeat the same feat. Interestingly, it is likely that one of DeBose’s biggest rivals is Moreno himself.

In A Boy Like That / I Have Love, the song ends on a high note, and Spielberg focuses the camera on the faces of the two actresses, creating the scorching feel of classic Hollywood musicals. Such is the West Side Story. Despite its modernization status, Spielberg knows very well the elements that made musicals one of the most popular genres of the past. So that works that adapt to the times are born, while still maintaining their advantages and uniqueness. Again, a superior version over its predecessor. Steven Spielberg broke the impossible, as he had been doing for decades. Movie Review

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