Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a slow-burning noir that builds up the thrills. The payoff is worth it, but the runtime needed to be trimmed. However, the visual style, musical score, costume, and production designs are gorgeous throughout. Plus, Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett are always superb and radiant.
No magic or supernatural elements this time around for del Toro. Instead, del Toro uses the power of dark storytelling to capture your soul. Del Toro's re-imaging of the classic 1946 novel is a marvelous addition to the cinemas. This is the second adaptation based on author William Lindsay Gresham's novel. The first film came out in 1947 and was directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, and The Razor's Edge). Now, del Toro will argue that this version is not a remake of the 1947 noir but is instead a re-adaptation of Gresham's novel. "Well, what it is is that book was given to me in 1992 by Ron Perlman before I saw the Tyrone Power movie, and I loved the book. My adaptation that I’ve done with [co-writer] Kim Morgan is not necessarily—the entire book is impossible, it's a saga. But there are elements that are darker in the book, and it's the first chance I have—in my short films I wanted to do noir. It was horror and noir. And now is the first chance I have to do a real underbelly of society type of movie. [There are] no supernatural elements. Just a straight, really dark story."
2021's Nightmare Alley is del Toro's first noir feature; while he was still able to add in small elements of horror throughout. A psychological thriller and neo-noir picture that has del Toro's masterful craft written all over it. Nightmare Alley might not live up to the same heights as 2006's Pan's Labyrinth or 2017's The Shape of Water, but it does not have to. Nightmare Alley is still a special gift crafted by a master. Our story follows a man named Stanton Carlisle (a strong Bradley Cooper), who's down on his luck at the moment. Yet, Stanton stumbles upon a traveling carnival in the Midwest. The owner of this carny is a man named Clem (a haunting Willem Dafoe), who allows Stanton to join. Soon, Stanton attaches himself to clairvoyant Zeena (a marvelous Toni Collette) and her alcoholic mentalist husband Pete (a great David Strathairn). By studying their craft, Stanton finds his golden ticket to success. By using his newly acquired knowledge, Stanton makes his way into the wealthy elites of 1940s New York society. By his side is Molly (a wonderful Rooney Mara), who leaves the carnival to help pull off these mentalist schemes.
All is well, that is, until Stanton decides to plot a con against a dangerous tycoon (a stern Richard Jenkins) with the help of a mysterious psychiatrist (a radiant Cate Blanchett). Nightmare Alley leans heavily into its actors and their ability to grab ahold of your attention scene after scene. The chemistry between Cooper and Blanchett will burst out of the screen. I was very happy to see Blanchett receive a SAG (Screen Actors Guild Awards) nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Blanchett has the ability to capture an audience's attention on the screen and never let go. She's a force of nature in this film: so mysterious, so captivating, so alluring. Alongside these great performances are a haunting musical score (Nathan Johnson), an eerie cinematography (Dan Laustsen), and gorgeous costume and production designs (Luis Sequeira and Tamara Deverell). The runtime definitely could have been trimmed, yet I was engrossed with the story the whole time. A story that, when it comes full circle, might leave you a little cold. Such is life. Del Toro's Nightmare Alley is a feast for the eyes and a master at work.
Nightmare Alley is rated R (Restricted) For Nudity | Language | Some Sexual Content | Strong/Bloody Violence.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.
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