#REVIEW: “NIGHTMARE ALLEY”
Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Four years after winning an Oscar for the Toronto-helmed “The Shape of Water”, Auteur Guillermo del Toro is back on the big screen with NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Long since a dream project of his, del Toro pays homage to the classic Hollywood Film Noir genre from the ’40s and ’50s where the men were hardboiled and weary (think Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” or William Holden in “Sunset Boulevard”) and the dames were shrewd and manipulative (Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” or Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”). Film Noir movies can be defined as atmospheric, moody and erotic that twist and turn, leaving the audience discombobulated and intrigued. del Toro achieves all this and more with originality and finesse and I will go on record to unequivocally state that NIGHTMARE ALLEY is the best modern-day Noir since “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential”.
Based on a 1946 Novel and filmed a year later with Tyrone Power in the lead role (check it out on Hollywood Suite), NIGHTMARE ALLEY is steeped in the world of carnivals where “freaks” enthralled the paying public with feats and abilities never experienced before. It’s all a big con job and a perfect place to hide in plain sight which is exactly what Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) does after he buries a dead body and burns a house down. He starts to work with a couple who claim to be clairvoyant (Toni Collette, David Strathairn). He also falls in love with Molly (Rooney Mara), a gentle soul, and the two think of starting an act of their own. All this occurs under the all-knowing and watchful eye of the carnival’s owner Clem (Willem Dafoe). After a tragic event, we fast forward two years ahead where Stan and Molly develop a successful act that cater to the rich and famous. When he successfully bamboozles noted Psychologist Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), he is eventually hired by Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), who wishes to communicate with his dead lover. To reveal more of the plot would be sacrilegious: the penultimate joys of NIGHTMARE ALLEY is that you think you know where it’s going only to discover more loops than in a sailor’s knot.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY achieves greatness on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. In a year filled with movies where the Production Designs left me breathless, this one is the most authentic. From the griminess of the carnival to the art deco opulence of the interiors of the rich, every detail is lovingly and faithfully recreated. The Cinematography by Dan Lausten is sumptuous and brilliantly showcases the performances, the ever-changing landscapes and the distinctive interiors.
Guillermo del Toro always brings out the best in his performers and with this Movie, he exceeds expectations. As I watched Bradley Cooper (in a career best), all I could think was “is there anything he can’t do?”. It is flamboyant with flash, internalized with grief or doubt or innate intelligence to “Streep-esque” proportions, romantic as all-get-out and scarier than Frankenstein’s monster. Two-time Oscar nominees, Rooney Mara and Richard Jenkins, reach stratospheric heights, equally matched by performances from Dafoe, Collette, Strathairn, Ron Perlman and Mary Steenburgen. For me, the standout performance is from Cate Blanchett. Channeling the legendary Lauren Bacall in looks and demeanour, her Femme Fatale oozes with sensuality and duplicities. She is hypnotic and impossible to ignore and the chemistry between her and Cooper is elegant and bewitching.
del Toro is a master craftsman and in NIGHTMARE ALLEY he reaches deep inside his bag of cinematic tools, astonishing the audience at every point, with audacity he has never presented before. This Movie is original. This Movie is grandiose, gruesome, wicked. NIGHTMARE ALLEY unquestionably is one of the year’s best.
Searchlight Pictures release NIGHTMARE ALLEY December 17, 2021.
*Please exercise caution observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre*