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Nightmare Alley – Movie Review

nightmare alley film review

With gruesomely entertaining performances and strange turns, we’re plunged into the sordid realm of carnivals with Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett.

Guillermo del Toro delivers a stunning noir melodrama with gruesomely entertaining performances and freakish twists. He proves that, despite the old song, there are still a few enterprises like showbusiness: psychoanalysis and crime. Del Toro takes us to a carnival of terror with his usual love of the fantastic and hallucinatory elements, as well as some body-horror spasms. Fortunately, it’s without the supernatural whimsy that occasionally threatens to swamp his films in twee.

Nightmare Alley is based on a 1946 novel by pulp writer William Lindsay Gresham, who had a great interest in the unsavory carnies, circuses, traveling shows, and magicians with their freakish glitter of the occult. (It’s interesting to note that after their divorce, Gresham’s ex-wife Joy Davidman moved to England and began dating CS Lewis.) Nightmare Alley was first released in 1947 with Tyrone Power in the lead role, and it will be Bradley Cooper taking on Stan Carlisle, a penniless guy with a violent history who must go into hiding for a while.

Stan visits a traveling carnival, where the most stomach-churning attraction is a haunted-house presentation that plunges visitors into an inferno of the Last Judgment, a revolting honeycomb of bulging eyes. Stan finds that the hatchet-faced individuals in charge can always use people like him to assist with difficult, backbreaking labor for little money and without asking any questions. Stan is a step above the usual hobos and losers; he’s a likely guy with a pleasant personality and an enquiring mind, who is intrigued by Zeena’s (Toni Collette) and Pete’s (David Strathairn) cheesy mind-reading show. Stan comprehends the art of the mind reader right away: to learn the secret verbal ciphers supplied to him by his partner, but also to employ his natural perceptive talents to figure out what sort of person he’s dealing with and picking up hints.

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Stan marries carnival huckster Molly (Rooney Mara) and moves with her to Chicago, where their high-class act in hotel showrooms becomes the toast of the town. Then he comes upon someone else in the mind-reading game: Lilith Ritter, beautifully played by Cate Blanchett, a fashionable psychoanalyst with peroxide hair, a slash of lipstick, a big art deco consulting room, and a brace of wealthy clients. She makes him an incredible offer.

Stan’s mind-reading spiritualist act has a horribly good basis, and there is something chilling in the core idea: Stan’s phony mind reader performance, while horribly deceptive, is built on solid truths about human nature that are shown to the seedy huckster but not to the educated individual who appears to ridicule the showman’s preposterous performance. Every single individual believes their life to be a secret only they possess, and everyone is haunted by someone in particular (the phony spiritualist will solemnly assure the audience that this person has a ghostly hand on their shoulder), someone they love and despise at the same time. Stan’s mind-reading, in its way, is quite genuine.

The scene where Lilith is in the crowd for Stan’s classy show, demanding to ask the questions herself, not letting Molly utilize her codewords, and daring Stan to tell her what’s in her handbag is a fantastic setpiece. Will Stan be exposed in front of his tuxedo-clad fans? Stan removes his ridiculous blindfold without fear and returns Lilith’s gaze with insight comparable to that of Sherlock Holmes. Stan, and tricksters like him, are a kind of priesthood, a brotherhood of ruined and corrupted knowledge imprisoned in a hell that no one else can see, according to De Toro’s film. Download CinemaHD now to watch it for free with high image quality.

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Trailer: 

nightmare alley film review

Movie Name: Nightmare Alley
Cast Leads: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producer: Bradley Cooper, J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan, William Lindsay Gresham (based on the novel)
Music: Nathan Johnson
Director Of Photography: Dan Laustsen

Movie Rating: 3/5

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