By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Director, producer, and co-writer Guillermo del Toro
puts his signature stamp on “Nightmare Alley,”
the dark, twisted, and sprawling follow-up to his 2017 Oscar-winning movie "The Shape of Water.”
“Nightmare Alley” is an adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s
1946 novel and remake of the 1947 film noir classic of the same name.
Del Toro’s version is a visual feast and boasts a remarkable cast of characters. Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”) stars as Stanton “Stan” Carlisle, a man with a checkered past. The movie opens with him inside his house burying a dead body in the floorboards and setting the place on fire.
Looking for a fresh start, Stan winds up at a roadside carnival run by the shyster Clement Hoately (Willem Defoe, “Spider-Man: No Way Home”).
Stan can be incredibly charming, but beneath those steely blue eyes, the guy is really rotten to the core and if he can’t get what he wants from you, it’s probably not going to end well for you.
Naturally, Stan feels right at home among the carnival crowd of freaks and geeks who have their own agenda too. There’s the circus psychic, Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”), her mentalist and alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn, “Nomadland”) and strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman, “Don’t Look Up”).
Stan’s a quick learner and soaks up all the tricks of the trade. Thanks to Pete, he becomes a masterful mentalist. Stan has a plan that could make him wealthy and when he locks eyes with magician assistant Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara, “Mary Magdalene”) he believes they could do so much better away from Clement and on their own. So, they hit the road with their little slick show. That’s when Stan meets the seductive and corrupt psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter (a fabulous Cate Blanchett, “Don’t Look Up”).
Lilith and Stan are a match made in hell. They join forces and find ways to rip off several of her clients like Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins, “The Humans”). However, Ezra turns out to be far more complicated than Stan thought, and things take a major turn for Stan.
“Nightmare Alley” runs a hefty 150 minutes long, and almost wears out its welcome. However, Del Toro manages to keep this spectacle engaging. It’s a departure from the sort of creature features he’s made, yet die-hard del Toro fans, still may find this dark, seedy tale right up their alley.
opens in theaters on Dec. 17.
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Watch This Trailer For "NIGHTMARE ALLEY"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.