*No twists spoiled here…
In 1940s New York, down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle endears himself to a clairvoyant and her mentalist husband at a traveling carnival. Using newly acquired knowledge, Carlisle crafts a golden ticket to success by swindling the elite and wealthy. Hoping for a big score, he soon hatches a scheme to con a dangerous tycoon with help from a mysterious psychiatrist who might be his most formidable opponent yet.
“You don’t fool people”
Noir’s are a time of movie we really do not get to see that often anymore. So to hear Guillermo Del Toro was following up his Best Picture win for SHAPE OF WATER with a remake of a 1947 Noir story, I was intrigued to say the least. Del Toro has done everything: Superhero movies, Sci-fi, Monster movies (his specialty), and much more. Nightmare Alley probably is the movie that is most set in the real world that he has ever made, and boy does he continue to showcase why he is one of the best we have as far as directors.
This story follows Stan (Bradley Cooper) as he goes from Drifter, to Carnival Worker, to Amateur Con Man, to Full Blown Con Man and everything in between. At the carnival he learns an “act” in order to make money and eventually deceive people with the help of his love Molly (Rooney Mara). He eventually meets psychologist Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) and they decide to use her knowledge to make some big time money. The screenplay is clearly well written because it comes from a respected book, which in turn created the respected original film. What makes this movie different though is GDT bringing his signature style.
Del Toro also brings in frequent collaborator Dan Laustsen to shoot the movie, and of course it looks incredible the whole time. The movie is littered with images of fire, which in my opinion is showing Stan’s trip to Hell throughout the story. So many cool tricks in which they use to keep you immersed in the movie, even it feels like it may be dragging a bit. Alexandre Desplat had a conflict for the score so they brought in Nathan Johnson and his score was very serviceable, bringing in those noir sounds along with a spooky undertone. The movie of course hinges on the performances though and of course coming off a Best Picture win he was able to round up a hell of a cast.
Stock Neutral – Bradley Cooper
He is a huge star and has become a very competent director. But this is a performance of a character we have never really seen from him. Extremely reserved, complicated, and menacing all at the same time. He gives a great performance and we are lucky to have someone like him at the top of their game taking roles like this that really challenge someone.
Stock Up – Rooney Mara
She has been around a long time and had some high profile roles, but has never really been at the top of the chain as far as star power. This is a great role for her and gives her a chance to play all spectrums of emotion, yet still also has that menace in her as well underneath. Her look fits her perfectly for a film noir, but I think she has the chops really for anything she wants to do.
Stock Neutral – Cate Blanchett
Superstar extraordinaire, she is one of the best we have in the world, and has been for a long time. As I said about Rooney Mara and her look, Cate Blanchett feels like she was picked out of a 1940’s movie and dropped directly into this story. She fits perfectly in this universe and absolutely steals the show the second she walks on screen. I am just a huge fan of hers and continue to be amazed with every new character she creates.
*A couple other tidbits
- So good to see great actors like Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen continue to do great work.
- Willem Dafoe continues his great year here with one of the best scenes of the year, explaining the Geek concept to Cooper’s character.
- Love Toni Collette here, and I honestly wanted more from her character.
- Ron Perlman has a very long history with GDT, dating back to Perlman himself giving GDT the Nightmare Alley book as far back as 1992. So it is always cool to see them continuing to work together.
- This movie is littered with That Guys like Tim Blake Nelson, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany all giving fun and interesting performances.
For Del Toro this is an interesting step towards reality, after a career of living in fantasies. I do not think it is his best work, but there is a lot of great work in here and it clearly shows what well crafted movie making can still achieve, with the right performances.
*You can find my 2021 Movie Rankings here.
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