Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 156 mins
West Side Story is an American film about about a man and a woman who fall in love. However, they both belong to opposite sides of a vicious gang war in Manhattan between the Jets and the Sharks, making their love an impossibility.
A remake of one of the most famous movie musicals ever made, it’s quite remarkable to say that Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a spectacular step forward from its legendary predecessor. Helped immensely by progress in technology over the past 60 years, this film soars with a love and passion for its source material, blending a glorious, majestic atmosphere with dynamic and captivating storytelling that makes for a truly unique experience in the modern day.
However, it’s best that I get one thing out of the way before we start. I’ve never had a great love for the original West Side Story. Legendary and endlessly-acclaimed it may be, but of all the 1960s’ biggest movie musicals, it always stood out to me as the least accessible, and the least entertaining.
As such, I went into this remake fairly sceptical, but I came out feeling on top of the world. Building upon the original’s glorious modernisation of the story of Romeo & Juliet, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story has all the majesty and elegance of its predecessor, but also delivers accessible, energetic and hugely entertaining storytelling that makes its two and a half hour runtime absolutely fly by.
This is one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen, but it’s important to note that there’s not all that much different about this version of West Side Story compared to the 1961 original. While there are of course countless things about the film that make it unique, this is a film which clearly has a real love for its predecessor, and stays as close to the original film as it can, in story, atmosphere, style, music, setting and everything in between.
What that creates is a modern movie that still resonates with the charm of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It’s a rare thing to find a film today so willing to tell a classic story of star-crossed lovers, filled with melodrama, impossibly good dance numbers and powerful musical ballads, but Steven Spielberg sticks to his guns in replicating the glory of the film that came before it.
But if there are so many similarities between the original film and this remake, what’s the point? Well, while West Side Story retains the elegance of its predecessor, it counts on huge progressions in technology and filmmaking over the last six decades to turn what was originally a majestic but often sluggish story into an epic, hugely entertaining cinematic experience.
The film is paced beautifully, combining the calm and beautiful patience of the most emotionally resonant moments with zippy, rapid-fire sequences that advance the story with heaps of energy. That eliminates what I found to be the biggest barrier to enjoying the original film, but Spielberg’s West Side Story isn’t finished there.
With spectacularly dynamic camerawork at every moment, this is a film that flows in truly gorgeous fashion, with each of its main music and dance numbers weaving together so organically, and helping not only to keep the story moving throughout, but to add their own memorable flair to the film with the message and musical style they deliver.
The songs are all well-known classics, and this film deliberately makes sure to preserve them as best as it can, but the use of staggering dance choreography and visually stunning cinematography makes what was once an elegant movie musical into an often electrifying, and truly epic watch from start to finish.
Bolstered by a range of exceptional performances across the board, not just from leads Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, but also the likes of David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno and especially Ariana DeBose, West Side Story is a film that has a riveting story full of energy wherever you look on screen, and it all fits perfectly into its gloriously beefy runtime, where not a moment feels wasted.
Overall, I was hugely impressed with West Side Story. A genuinely beautiful film that combines the majesty of Old Hollywood with the technical prowess of the modern day, this is hugely entertaining, epic musical filled to the brim with energy, gripping storytelling, spectacular performances, and so much more. So, that’s why I’m giving it an 8.4.