Movie Review – Nightmare Alley – 2021 – Entertaining Movie
My Rating – 4 out of 5
Plot Summary (Storyline) – Nightmare Alley
First off, a little history about the film Nightmare Alley (2021) by celebrated Mexican film-maker Guillermo Del Toro – he of the Shape of Water fame. The original novel of the same name, written by US author William Lindsay Gresham, was published in the year 1946 and made into a film in 1947 by Edmund Goulding. Having neither read the book nor seen the first cinematic adaptation, I watched this one with a blank canvas of expectation – except the masterstrokes of the director. Having an accomplished star cast headlined by the imperious Bradley Cooper and the charismatic Cate Blanchett helps push the attraction of this film up by several notches!
Set in the early 1940s, it traces the journey of a traveling carnival with acts of varying attractions and in keeping with the times, a ‘geek’ who would be the star attraction of the show’s collection. In this case, the ‘geek’ was a raging alcoholic made to turn tricks with the lure of intoxication. Bradley Cooper plays the role of Stanton Carlisle, a journeyman drawn to the charms of a traveling carnival. Roped in as a helping hand first, Stan rises quickly through the ranks of the carnival hierarchy, learning some tricks from a few players. But on meeting Molly (Rooney Mara), Stan realizes that he could possibly have an act of his own, using Molly’s guileless charm.
Stan also learns some of his tricks from the enigmatic couple Zeena (Toni Collette) and Pete (David Strathairn), who works as the ‘Seer’ and Pete as her ‘eyes’ – by using coded words. Through his interactions with Pete and Zeena, Stan undergoes a lot of psychological evaluation and analysis, revealing his childhood ‘Daddy’ issues. This is where Bradley Cooper starts coming into his own, with his brooding intensity and tremendous depth! But Stan is too canny and drunk on his own invincibility to be swayed by the psych-eval by Pete and Zeena, and before long avoids his demons for the time being. Thus begins his journey to a heady peak of success and then inevitably, into the morass of disaster.
Then comes his escape with Molly from the carnival and his encounter with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), another psychologist, whose canny charm and magnetic personality wows the ruthless Stan – only for him to discover the vicious but razor-sharp intellect of the ‘good’ Doctor. As the Doctor pries out Stan’s deepest and darkest secrets, Stan discovers that he’s too much under the Doctor’s spell than his liking but it is too late to escape her clutches. Meanwhile, his con of deceiving rich folks of their money by promising them a spiritual redemption – using the charms of Molly, gives him success and then an intense meltdown of epic proportions. The gorgeous handling by the director comes to the fore here!
Clem Hoately: Step right up and behold one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe! Is he a man or beast? This creature has been examined by the foremost scientists and pronounced, unequivocally, a man. I am prepared to offer you folks one last chance to witness this supreme oddity. Where did it come from? Begotten by the same and threat that got us all walking on this earth, but gone wrong somehow in maternal womb. Not fit for living. Is it a beast, or is it a man? You’re in luck, because tonight, you will see him feed! Come on in and find out. Is he a man… or beast?Willem Dafoe in Nightmare Alley
Conclusion – Movie Review – Nightmare Alley
There is little that one can add to the brilliance of Guillermo Del Toro’s mastery of the art of film-making but the cinematography, set-designing, and lighting add to the magnificence of a well-made film. Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett are exceptional in their lead roles and the supporting cast excels in their roles too. In Oscar season, The Power of the Dog (read my review here) and now Nightmare Alley, comprise of interesting competition, not counting Dune (my review is here) in the mix as well – though I did not think too highly of Dune, contrary to what the nominating panel thought. But that’s a story for another day. Meanwhile, enjoy Nightmare Alley from Guillermo Del Toro!
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