Venice Film Festival Review: Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’

Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

Vague Visages’ Maestro review contains minor spoilers. Bradley Cooper’s 2023 Netflix movie features himself, Carey Mulligan and Maya Hawke. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Bradley Cooper’s Maestro serves up another top-shelf cocktail of heady and woozy romance, this time soundtracked to Leonard Bernstein’s masterful catalogue. The actor-director’s second feature, arriving on Netflix in December 2023, has a novelistic feel to it, wrestling with the sweep of the subject’s life story but steering away from a paint-by-numbers approach. Instead, Maestro is a soulful study of love, with the relationship between Bernstein and Cuban-American actress Felicia María Cohn (Carey Mulligan) taking center stage. The result is a mostly rhapsodic joy (and a rich delight for fans of musical theatre). 

Beginning in crisp black-and-white and shifting to woozy color for the second half, Maestro spans 40 years in Bernstein’s life as the great American composer. The subject juggles his many labels (conductor, performer, lover), with his fatal flaw being an inability to choose an identity. As for Bernstein’s many, many flings with men, Cooper neatly (and appropriately for the era) avoids sexual labels, instead focusing on how the larger-than-life man drew so many into his orbit (and how that changed the fates of those affected).

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Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

As in A Star Is Born (2018), the music sequences in Maestro touch the sublime. With cinematographer Matthew Libatique in tow, Cooper specializes in shooting the focal performer at the height of his powers, imbuing scenes with a neat balance of real-life accuracy and creative flair. If A Star is Born charts the pain of life seeping into art, then Maestro shows the frenzied highs of an artist whose personality blurs both worlds, cresting into fame as his loved ones are eclipsed by his own star power. 

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Cooper employs a canny use of Bernstein scores (including an hilarious drop of West Side Story [1961], which is mostly conspicuously absent), and the film starts to truly sing and soar once viewers see Bernstein in flagrante as a composer. Maestro essays the challenge of an artist with a surfeit of talent and emotion.

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Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

It’s the role of a lifetime, though, for Mulligan, whose distinct brand of charming hauteur and elegantly droll one-liners are the perfect riposte for Bernstein’s occasionally monstrous self. She receives top billing at the end credits, as though it’s Cooper’s final tip of the hat to the real-life Cohn (the couple’s children were at the Venice premiere, weeping and applauding during the standing ovation). 

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Cooper shows more verve and sophistication than ever before in Maestro — especially in the early sequences, which show the subject in the wings of his own life, ready to begin, before his career has started out in earnest. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t sustain the expert directorial control of the first 30 minutes, and it might be a little on-the-nose to suggest that the literal bloat of Bernstein’s persona carries over to the film itself in the final section. Overall, Maestro centers on the subject’s depression and creative crisis without providing an authentic vision of either. The film sidelines Mulligan, leaving viewers with reconstructed versions of real-life Bernstein interviews. 

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Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

The virtuoso shots of Maestro’s first half play like something out of a far more rote, straightforward biopic. As uncanny as Cooper might be in these sequences, the film lacks the creative spark and inventive wit that marks the fictionalized rapport between Bernstein and Cohn.

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There is much to love in Maestro; however, Bernstein purists should be warned. By eschewing typical biopic fare, Cooper misses out on a play-by-play of famous On the Town and West Side Story scores. Maestro isn’t a story of the subject’s life and career — it’s a chronicle of love and marriage. 

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Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

If Cooper is Maestro’s brawn and brains, the beating heart is Mulligan. It’s easy to believe the film was made with her in mind, and one can see the emotions scanning across her face — lit from within, every feature flickering with authentic feeling. It’s a wonderfully lived-in performance, never surrendering to the overly-mannered control of other (often Oscar-winning) real-life imitations.

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One Maestro sequence, set against the backdrop of a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, unleashes Cohn’s decades of unspoken fury with Bernstein. The icily cold and wearily delivered tone sweeps a lifetime of the unsaid into a single scene. It’s a gratifying and glorious sequence, as the truth of their love is exposed, with no clue from either on how to accurately navigate their way away from it. 

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Maestro Review - 2023 Bradley Cooper Movie Film on Netflix

And, oh, the music. If “Shallow” from A Star Is Born soared out over supermarket aisles for 12 straight months, there’s a chance Spotify will soon bump Bernstein’s “Mass” up the algorithm. The powerhouse track approaches something like the profound, as Cooper seems to suggest that purity of talent can suggest health of mind and body. The director’s love for Bernstein suffuses every frame in Maestro. This love might risk clouding out the judgment of a lesser filmmaker, sweeping the subject’s vanity and ego under the rug, but Cooper expertly balances Bernstein’s charm against his more vainglorious nature. 

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“There is no hate in your heart,” Cohn whispers to Bernstein in a climactic Maestro scene, as the years fall away between them and the pair are pulled back together by their united love of music. For a punchdrunk Cooper, there is only love in his heart for Bernstein. And there is so much to adore in Maestro, as Cooper’s supremely controlled vision touches greatness and sustains it. 

Jonny Mahon-Heap is a culture and lifestyle reporter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Little White Lies, Man About Town and Metro.

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