“Innocence once lost, can never be regained. Darkness, once gazed upon, can never be lost.” – John Milton
I’m going to say something here I might get a lot of flak for but it’s something I’ve felt for a long time. Guillermo del Toro is what Tim Burton wishes he was. Macabre storytelling, off-kilter characters with deformities both physical and mental and unorthodox anti-heroes are things both directors are known for. In my unimportant opinion del Toro just executes better in every way. His monster designs are legendary, his storytelling is often the best balance of horror and drama with characters either evil or good but always complex in the way they operate within an intricate world usually ripped directly from his imagination and collaborations with those he surrounds himself with. Burton seems more into being kooky rather than interesting. Again, just my silly little opinion.
Nightmare Alley is another example of his ability to take something bizarre and make it not only palatable but award worthy. He can express the emotions of humanity using the most deplorable versions of ourselves. He showcases the dark side of mankind through his monsters and creatures. He can, all in a single story, show moments of purity and triumph only to rip it all down in horrific fashion. He can be delicate and brutal all at once and with Nightmare Alley he may be at his most cynical.
In the darkness beauty is rampant in this noir tale of woe until a light is shined upon it only to reveal the blood and torture of characters who may have been decent in one life or another but are now turned sour like dairy in the daylight. A tragedy is the loyalty they possess for each of their circus brothers and sisters but bathe in disgust for the very people they aim to attract with such depravity and self generated hopelessness. In the world of circus folk, they have been conditioned to become the act rather than simply perform it, they give themselves to it, each act different but ultimately every act eventually becoming greedy for cash and souls, their souls.
Nightmare Alley tells the tale of a man lost in the world who doesn’t seem to have a preference of where he ends up. In that case, why not join the circus? In the beginning he is a helping hand, lifting and moving various things from one place to another in hopes of a hot meal, a bit of cash to spend and a warm bed away from the rain and immorality of people. An emotion he’s all too familiar with. As he gains the trust of his fellow circus folk, he becomes intrigued by one of their acts consisting of illusion through supposed mind reading. As his expertise sharpens his aptitude for honesty and morality begin to dull. When he first begins his own show his aim is to make money of course but to actually help people find closure. Even if that closure is nothing more than a highly rehearsed ruse. Beginning to believe his own shoveled manure does in fact not stink, he inevitably encounters the wrong crowd. The kind of crowd that makes offers others can’t refuse, if you catch my drift. In the end you’ll see that for these lost souls innocence left long ago.
Bradley Cooper stars as Stanton, a man who appears motivated by anything that will give him the upper hand in any situation he finds himself up against. He is at times stoic but can easily demonstrate his ability through charisma to lie and cheat the general public of the 1940’s. As maniacal as he can be he is no match for Cate Blanchett as the black widow-like, full-time manipulator, part-time psychiatrist. Cooper acts as a lost soul finding his way into the embrace of the morally bankrupt. While not without his own stains he only becomes more heartless as the money flows and his lies become his only truths. Blanchett is evil incarnate as she prods and pulls those unfortunate enough to find themselves trapped within her web. She is an attraction all her own as her performances absolutely steals the show.
Nightmare Alley is dark and even evil at times. It is a tale about the importance of dealing with the devil you know rather than the one you don’t. Cooper plays a man who can’t possibly fathom a life more miserable than the one left behind all the while treading a path to something far more horrifying. It can often feel hopeless only splashed with moments of horrendous violence enough to make anyone squirm. Much of this story is devoid of innocence. This titular alley is a place where the freaks become nothing more than shells forced into a life of doom and gloom; where they are kidnapped and changed from the inside out.
This is one of my favorite films of 2021. Nightmare Alley, like The Shape of Water is further demonstration of del Toro taking something most others wouldn’t know what to do with and turning it into something that may be out of the ordinary but is also undeniably beautiful. Cast, story and visual splendor combine to make yet another Guillermo del Toro modern day classic.
Rated R For: strong/bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity and language
Runtime: 150 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins
Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 9/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 10
OVERALL: 9.5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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