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  Nightmare Alley I'm Getting The Word Disappointment
Year: 2021
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Mark Povinelli, Peter MacNeill, Holt McCallany, Jim Beaver, Clifton Collins Jr, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) just got off the bus from his previous home, which he felt the need to set ablaze, and ends up at a location where a carnival has been set up, complete with rides and sideshows. Intrigued, he wanders into the geek show, where a pathetic individual debases himself for the public's entertainment by biting the heads off live chickens, all so the audience can leave relieved that no matter how badly things can go for them, they will never have to sink that low. Stanton does further wandering and winds up backstage, where one of the carnies offers him a job, if he wants it...

Set during the latter years of the Depression and into the start of World War Two, this was a remake of the classic and macabre film noir that marked a departure for matinee idol Tyrone Power. He had been straining at the bonds of his pin-up status to be given more challenging material, but he only ever received it with Nightmare Alley in 1947, and of course it was his favourite of his own films, no wonder when it demonstrated that even the prettiest of movie stars can give a strong performance with the right role and opportunity. So why did Cooper, a star who initially banked on his good looks, seem miscast here?

Surely it should have been the same mechanism, the handsome actor really getting his teeth into something that could show him off to his best advantage? Yet the thing was, it didn't - it showed up his limitations as the character he was playing was, unlike the original, one-note and suffering an arc that was far too well-telegraphed even if you had not seen the first version of William Lindsay Gresham's book. If you are wondering why there was so much emphasis on the carny geek in the early stages, you will not be surprised to see that plot point make a return by the conclusion, rendering the mood more a dutiful plod through the narrative.

Director Guillermo Del Toro has already proven himself a master of style, but style was all you had here, with the film's appearance production designed to within an inch of its life, intricately adorned with trinkets that offer a cluttered look which is not necessarily easy to get along with. He said he had been moved to remake the classic noir because of its psychics and mentalists element, as Stanton becomes a successful stage and nightclub clairvoyant on his journey to the top, before he gets too big for his boots. Obviously unconvinced by these performers, the ones who claim authentic, otherworldly powers at least, Del Toro may have been exacting an act of cinematic revenge on those parasitical "psychics" who tried to trick his family when his father was kidnapped.

Now, that kind of righteous anger should have been enough to fuel the entire movie, yet we never felt any of that in what was, for most of its way overlong two and a half hours, keeping its cool and draining the indignation out of what could have been a very fiery tale. It was very well-cast, Cooper aside, with plenty of character actors lining up for a juicy role from Del Toro, and maybe Willem Dafoe came off best as the man who gives Stanton a job initially, as you could believe him as a genuine carny, with all the required banter. Toni Collette wasn't bad, though Cate Blanchett was too restrained at first, which made her scenery-chewing later on somewhat jarring. But the problem was, the film didn't make the now-vintage material come alive, it pickled it like Dafoe's preserved foetuses in jars, and without a charismatic figure at its heart, it quickly became a chore to watch, no matter how much love had gone into it (and love was evidently there). Maybe Del Toro needed to try something contemporary to recharge his batteries by this stage. Music by Nathan Johnson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Guillermo del Toro  (1964 - )

Stylish Mexican horror director who moves between personal projects and Hollywood blockbusters. After a couple of short films, he earned international attention with unusual vampire chiller Cronos. Mimic was an artistically disappointing follow up, but he enjoyed success with vampire action sequel Blade II, spooky ghost story The Devil's Backbone, and another horror comic adaptation, Hellboy. Spanish Civil War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth was widely seen as a triumph and won three Oscars. After a long spell in production hell since Hellboy II, he returned with giant monster mash Pacific Rim and gothic chiller Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water, an unconventional horror romance, garnered him Oscars and noir remake Nightmare Alley was similarly nominated.

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