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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Nightmare Alley' Review: Bradley Cooper Exploits Psychic Abilities With Guillermo Del Toro

Rooney Mara and Bradley Cooper in a dressing room
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Reading about this film is just temporary, I swear, just until we find another reader. Anyway, here's your cocktail. Guillermo del Toro returns to the director's seat with Nightmare Alley, adapting William Lindsay Gresham's novel with the same name alongside fellow co-writer Kim Morgan. This psychological thriller juggles us to a grim carnival where a guy with a murky past, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), starts workingseemingly to hide from the world. Whilst there, ''Stan'' gets romantically involved with a performed called Molly (Rooney Mara) and sparks a special interest in learning the tricks of clairvoyant artists Zeena (Toni Collette) and Peter (David Strathairn), something that he will exploit for a prosperous future for himself and Molly away from the carnival.

That basic explanation of the plot that covers most of the first hour is merely a part of it as there's a whole another life waiting for Stan and Molly after. Though it might seem somewhat complicated, the excellent story is in fact the headlining act of this particular carnival since it has incredible arcs for the characters, and also the way it is bookended gives the story its rich and fulfilling quality. It's a bit of a shame that the second half has some spoilers to be avoided which makes it harder to talk about, because del Toro and Morgan's writing truly comes alive then as the first half trails in and out more. That also reflects on Cooper's leading performance which has even some laziness going on first but once Stan's rising career trajectory kicks in, so does the performance which is then topped off by a powerful final scene.

When it comes to the crafts of Nightmare Alley, the film certainly doesn't look like it doesn't deserve all of its $60 million budget. DoP Dan Laustsen creates some outstanding lighting in his frames while the MVP is Tamara Deverell's multifaceted production design, ranging from the wild carnival sets to more textured and wealthy style as Stan moves up in the society. Similar evolution can also be found in Luis Sequeira's costumes. Because the story is so layered and the filmmaking is an undeniable force, it is sad to say that del Toro's vision is missing something when it comes to just feeling the movie, especially considering the genre which is supposed to rattle you and push you out of your comfort zone. Maybe it is a bit too slick to feel dirty and grimy; either way, the word ''nightmare'' in the title feels excessive.

Smileys: Story, production design

Frowneys: Atmosphere

Should've got Ritt-of-er.


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