This isn’t a Carnival Trick

Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Toni Colette, David Strathairn, Ron Perlman, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Anderson, Holt McCallany, Clifton Collins Jr

Film Rating: 9 out of 10

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Based upon the pulp fiction novel by William Lindsay Graham, Nightmare Alley, Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) turns his deft hand to the genre of film noir in this 1941 American thriller featuring brilliant performances by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett.

Starting in the mid-west, we follow a low life con artist Stanton Carlisle expertly played by Cooper who gets off a train and follows a dwarf into a Carnival where he meets an assortment of weird and equally morally subversive characters from the sultry Tarot Card reader Zeena played by Toni Colette to Clem Hoatley played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire, The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate) who controls a man in a cage who eats live chickens.

The first half of the spooky Carnival scenario is vividly captured on film by del Toro as Cooper’s character proves that he is a fast talker and a suave mentalist, easing gullible folk out of their money but he has bigger dreams. He yearns for the big grift: the wealthy clients of the urban metropolis.

Dragging his equally suspicious girlfriend Molly Cahill wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Rooney Mara (Carol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) along to Chicago, they decide to turn their glamourous tricks on wealthy city folk until he is caught in the cross hairs of psychiatrist Dr Lillith Ritter, the ultimate femme fatale in a brilliant and sassy turn by double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), who wears brilliant red lipstick and carries an ivory handled pistol in her evening gown.

Dr Ritter psychoanalyses the suave Stanton skilfully manipulating him into going after some wealthy clients including the eccentric recluse Ezra Grindle superbly played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water, The Visitor) who is paying him a fortune to conjure up the image of his dead wife.

From the authentic production design, to the expert pace and tension of the film, director Guillermo del Toro delivers a first rate film noir thriller about the rise and spectacular fall of mentalist and trickster Carlisle played by Bradley Cooper in his career best performance.

Cooper does a superb job of holding this entire film together from the seedy Mid-Western Carnival scenes, which are both dazzling and daunting to the exquisite scene between himself and Dr Ritter in one of the best scenes in the film, in which the dialogue crackles with manipulation, seduction and desire amidst temptation and cigarette smoke.

Nightmare Alley is a long film, in which the first half entirely foreshadows the second half but the talented ensemble support the two stars of the show in this riveting, psychological thriller which eventually leaves blood on the passageways. From the gorgeous golden Art Deco interiors, to the beautiful costumes, Nightmare Alley leaves nothing to chance.

This isn’t a carnival trick, it’s authentic cinematic entertainment which the supremely talented director Guillermo del Toro excels at delivering. In this case, it’s a pure cinematic homage to the original 1947 film starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker.

Strictly for sophisticated cinema goers, soak up the atmosphere of sinister intentions in 1941 America and watch the film noir Nightmare Alley, which gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

Definite Oscar nominations for Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and David Strathairn as the drunkard trickster Pete.

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