A lot of us get swept up by the love story of West Side Story, but Steven Spielberg’s version leans into the anger. Because of Tony Kushner’s masterful screenplay, the characters are fleshed out more, and the stakes are raised for everyone, including the desperation for Jets leader, Riff. Mike Faist’s performance came from the page, and he delivers one of the best performances of the year. The character has everything on the line, and when you think you are dead already, you have nothing to lose.
Even though Riff and Sharks leader, Bernardo, are fighting for different things, there are things that these men can learn from one another. Going into the rumble, he is desperate to have Tony join in the fray not just because he considers him a brother, but he is hoping to tap into Tony’s former fury. Tony has moved on from that anger, but Riff wades through it. He can’t escape it.
The Tony nominee is charming and very self-effacing, because he believes in the material. He taps into the mentality of someone who is just trying to find something to hold onto. It’s riveting to watch.