West Side Story: the story told here by Steven Spielberg is, naturally, a grand one; after all, it is inspired by one of Shakespeare’s most famous and tragic love stories. Setting it in the 1950’s New York, a city in transformation that displaces some of its ethnic population, is a winning decision. Spielberg may be directing his first musical, but his experience with grandiose spectacle makes it look like he is an old hand at this. The music (by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim) is quite beautiful and well-executed by the cast, which is almost without an exception excellent.
Rachel Zegler has a beautiful singing voice and she is adorable, convincing as someone who would have a man falling in love at first sight; David Alvarez and Mike Faist, as the opposing gang leaders, are quite good; Ariana DeBose is a hurricane as the crucial friend to the heroine; Rita Moreno makes a touching appearance. The aforementioned exception, and an important one at that, is Ansel Elgort; he simply doesn’t have the looks or the charm called for by his character, the other half of the star-crossed couple, and is generally stiff in his acting.
The film looks beautiful. Production designer Adam Stockhausen creates a world in upheaval that looks palpably real. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski captures the big musical numbers with very elegant camerawork. Editors Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn keep the pace even, and the result is a film that feels much shorter than its runtime.
Read also: West Side Story (1961)