The latest film from Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley, is an adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s book, previously made into a 1947 film of the same name. The 47 film is good, but nothing special. It’s strange that del Toro wanted to make a remake of this film of all films. With that being said, I’m glad he revisited this pretty obscure suspense-thriller from the ’40s. His vision is an amazing one and what he created was phenomenal, to say the least.
Bradley Cooper plays a drifter who gets on with a traveling carnival. He becomes friends with the leader of the carnival (Willem Dafoe), learns to do mentalism from a clairvoyant (Toni Collette) and her husband (David Strathern), and uses this information to his advantage when trying to get to know another carnie (Rooney Mara). He likes her a lot and he convinces her to run away with him. They start a new life and job.
He’s now a successful mentalist at a nice nightclub in New York, swindling rich folks. He meets his match, though, when a physiologist (Cate Blanchett) calls him out in front of everybody at the club. He’s intrigued by her and he asks her to help him on an even bigger score. He wants them to reel in a big fish. But even though this could be lucrative, this could also be a very dangerous prospect.
Del Toro, Kim Morgan, and others wrote the screenplay for the film, and by the looks of it, a lot of actors have lined up to work with him for the first time. Cooper is the lead of the film among Oscar winners and established screen veterans. He inhabits this character like he’s never inhabited a character in his career before. All the different levels he has to go to keep making him get better and better as the film progresses further and further.
There are a lot of things that go into making a film work. And they all have to be great to make a film end up being great at the end of the day. In this film, the cinematography is by Dan Laustsen. He’s worked with del Toro before on The Shape of Water and Crimson Peak, but his crowning achievement is John Wick 3. He knows how to use lighting to his advantage. In the other films, the lighting helped accentuate all the other colors. And those films looked gorgeous, but in Nightmare Alley, the light helps create a browner hue that makes the period the film takes place in pop off the screen. The tans and browns are a perfect color paper set in this dirty era of the ’40s.
Del Toro liked to add a little darkness to his films. Yes, this is dark material, but it’s not as hard and moody as some other films he’s made. He adds little touches of blood and violence to the third act to make sure the audience knows they are watching a del Toro picture. It’s distinctly him all the say from the setting of a carnival to the cinematography to the score. He creates a great atmosphere that sucks the audience in and never lets them go. What a follow-up for him from his Best Picture and Director wins at the Academy Awards in 2017.
Nightmare Alley is a different kind of film from a lot of the fare we see these days. A lot of films are based on real people and pretty much have a set three-act standard for them. This film has that, but it’s not based on a real person or people. It is just a film about a world we rarely see anymore. That was a breath of fresh air for me. It makes sense all these great actors signed on for the film. Del Toro does things nobody else can do and that’s great to see.
In a landscape of reboots, sequels, and remakes it’s a breath of fresh air to see del Toro remake a relatively obscure film from the ’40s. He adds his own touches to distinguish it for people so they know it was his film. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is some of the best of the year and is surely going to garner him another Academy Award nomination. The all-star cast is phenomenal, led by Cooper. This film is one of the best! In a year with a lot of similar types of films, it stands out on its own.
Dan Skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media