Nightmare Alley (2021)

Synopsis: In 1940s New York, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joins a travelling carnival and meets Mary Cahill (Rooney Mara). Together the two of them set up a fake psychic act to con people out of money in this neo-noir thriller by Guillermo Del Toro.

This was not what I expected. I knew it would be dark, and I knew it would be impressive. But I thought it would be fantastical and strange. It’s not, it’s incredibly grounded, in fact, it’s downright sceptical towards a lot of the tricks of the trade, James Randi would be proud. The story isn’t as focused on the carnival as the advertising would make you think. Most of the characters are only that prevalent in the opening. Now in the past, I’ve talked about how I dislike that kind of thing, how losing all your characters after the opening can make it seem like it was pointless. But it worked for this. Even when the characters aren’t on screen, their presence is felt in the actions of the main character. So they never really feel like they’re not there.

Plus it helps that the rest of the film is incredibly compelling. This is essential a Del Toro film noir, and I love what he did with it. He’s perfect for that genre and it makes me wish he did more. His visual style suits it so well. There’s a dark beauty to the visuals and the lighting makes everything sharp and impressive. The music is good too, but it is probably the least memorable part of the film. Everything else is a 8/10 but that’s just a 6. Across the board the performances are fantastic. As much as I’ve enjoyed Bradley Cooper as an actor, this is probably the first time I’ve seen him in something and been truly lost in his performance. It baffles me how this film has been nominated for so many awards, yet his performance hasn’t (as of the time of writing anyway).

I should point out that this is a remake of a 1947 film starring Tyrone Power (whose daughter Romina makes a cameo in this), which itself was based on a book. I don’t know how much it changes from those two source points, but I want to know. Because of this film, I want to see the original, I want to read the book. The original was not a financial success, only finding acclaim afterwards. Sadly it looks like this might do the same. It’s a shame as this is probably the best-made film of the year so far. Seems like one of those films where people who see it like it, but not enough people see it. I’m hoping it makes it back on streaming etc as this deserves to be successful. If you sit down and watch this you’re going to like it. You might now enjoy it, but you’ll like it. This isn’t a happy film you watch with your family, this is a film you watch on your own like you would read a book. You set time aside, turn the lights off, and sit in the dark as you let the world take you in. Set aside something afterwards though, the ending is brutal. Well not the ending itself, but the inevitable aftermath. You know what the ending means, you know what it will end up leading to for the character, and so does he, but he can’t do anything about it. He has to just resign himself to his fate, and as an audience, so do you. It’s bleak, but really the only way this story could end.

This could be the final week this film is available for viewing at many cinemas across the UK, so get to it as soon as you can. I say it a lot, but this truly deserves a cinema viewing if you can.

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