Nightmare Alley Review: We've already seen the character drag a corpse and burn a house on fire by the time a baffling Bradley Cooper utters his first line of conversation as Stan Carlisle; many minutes into Guillermo del Toro's lavishly constructed version of “Nightmare Alley.”
The man arrives at the 1930s traveling circus inhabited by weird acts of mild mentalism and bizarre cautionary tales as a runaway; not from the police but his unresolved wrath.
Those first words, spoken with trepidation; are directed at the operation's geek; an alcoholic dehumanized for heinous entertainment who is on the run from his captor inside a terrifying exhibit that warns tourists of their impending doom.
Stan has no idea that he is looking in the mirror at this point in the arc of his fast ascension to the top-billing enchanter and catastrophic crash.
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It's not just because of Edmund Goulding's 1947 film adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's original novel that we can figure out where Stan's route leads.
Even people who are unfamiliar with one or both of the materials can see the cyclical fable del Toro develops through his visual and thematic reuse of noir clichés.
His film “Nightmare Alley” is a psychological thriller with downward spirals.
Stan runs the risk of becoming lost and never making it out the other side if he enters them.
The rotations of an immense Ferris wheel appear to be the clearest example of circular symbology.
The disorienting depth of the world when Stan arrives in Buffalo; New York; is even more prominent in Tamara Deverell's impeccable production design; which is heavy on green and gold tones: long corridors; spacious offices, and narrow streets that obey the movie's dramatic needs more than period precision.
Nightmare Alley Cast
Deverell's work is inextricably linked to cinematographer Dan Laustsen; who is now working with the Mexican filmmaker for the fourth time, and whose single-source lighting choices give the actors a timeless; radiant atmosphere.
There's flawless beauty, and then there's del Toro's work; which boasts an almost unrivaled level of detail; at least in terms of genre cinema.
Del Toro's iconic monsters aren't completely absent from his new vision; a pickled creature named Enoch; complete with a third eye; floats between artifice and mythology.
Stan meets a top-notch ensemble of odd individuals during the carnival.
Two of del Toro's previous partners, Clifton Collins Jr. and Ron Perlman, appear in minor roles.
The “young buck” found a new calling in the strange pair of Zeena (Toni Collette) and Pete (David Strathairn). They can pretend to read people's minds and guess objects while blindfolded using a sophisticated word code.
The dishonest antihero's goal is to gain control over the typical person's incredulity while courting Molly (Rooney Mara); another carnie who falls for his effortless panache.
Nightmare Alley Plot
- Carlisle creates a golden ticket to prosperity by defrauding the wealthy and elite with freshly gained knowledge.
- He quickly concocts a strategy to defraud a dangerous tycoon with the help of a mystery psychologist who may prove to be his most fearsome foe yet.
- Cooper works magic with an unassumingly stunning turn that tracks the arc of his Stan from doubtful naiveté to crazy confidence and finally miserable surrender; as one of Hollywood's most dependably intriguing talents when it comes to his character choices.
- The idea here isn't to imitate a classic star's demeanor but to make these shifts plausible enough to make us doubt his level of heartlessness.
- The characters' motivations and existential vicissitudes have been deepened in del Toro's 21st-century adaptation, with more than a few evident differences between the 1947 version and the 21st-century one.
Cooper's incarnation of a boy in the body of a man still crying for validation and raging against the world in a disguise of success to demand it, for example, gives Stan's daddy issues a bigger context.
Nightmare Alley Ending Geek
When Molly walked out of Stan's life at the end of “Nightmare Alley;” he went to Lilith's office to grab his money so he could go away and start a new life somewhere else.
Lilith, on the other hand, exacted her vengeance on Stan, attempting to hand him over to the police for his hallucinations and insanity.
Take, for example, an early scenario in Zeena and Pete's home, where the elder man demonstrates his manipulative skills.
Stan, who presents himself like a puppy with brilliant eyes, falls for the demonstration that implies he had a tense relationship with his father.
He felt emotionally exposed to the warmth of another's acknowledgment for a little moment, only to learn that he was only a common denominator. He was read aloud as if he were a book, demonstrating Pete's argument.
Pete shouts, “People are yearning to be seen.” “People are desperate to reveal their identities to you.”
The reality packed in the statement is bone-chilling. It's succinct yet penetrating.
He goes on to warn of “spook shows;” which play with the idea of appearing to have supernatural abilities to speak with the hereafter.
Naturally, Stan continues to pursue this goal as he and Molly flee the farm for the big city.