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NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021, USA) Movie review, plot, trailer

Guillermo del Toro was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture and Director for “Shape of Water”, an average fairy tale that is not up to his ankle by far, by far the best film “Pan’s Labyrinth” for which he was nominated only for the original screenplay. After producing several films and series in the meantime and working on various screenplays, the Mexican chose a remake of the cult noir from 1947 for his next directorial project. Unfortunately or fortunately, a month or two before Del Toro’s version came out, I watched a film made by Edmund Goulding just a year after Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name appeared, and to my great disappointment, Del Toro didn’t tried to make some changes and surprises in his version.

Of course, visually it looks gorgeous (behind the camera was the Dane Dan Laustsen with whom he already worked on “Crimson Peak” and “Shape of Water”), of course Del Toro has directing in his little finger, and of course there is a first-class rubber lining. But I still expected something more from Del Toro’s “Street of Nightmares”, I secretly hoped that this dark crime drama could be on the trail of Nolan’s “Prestige”, but none of that happened. It would be unfair to say that “Nightmare Alley” is a weak film. Moreover, everything is correct here. Wisely, Del Toro even deepened the background story of the main protagonist Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), an auxiliary carnival worker who will fly high to fall as loudly as possible, destroying many lives. Correct, but I always expect something more than correct from Del Toro.

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So, for example, in the end he almost autoplagized the scene from “Pan’s Labyrinth” whose planned effect was probably to shock the viewers, but Guillermo, you already sold us the same thing 15 years ago! But let’s get back to the beginning. In the introductory almost Tarkovinian scene, we see Stanton setting fire to the house with his father on his deathbed and leaving while a flame consumes the house in the distance. He doesn’t even have a nail in his pocket, and by chance he will be employed as an auxiliary worker in a traveling circus where he will be received by the insidious boss Clem (Willem Dafoe). And it’s a real freak show in which the attractions are dwarves, powerlifters, wild people (geeks), and he will become the assistant of the “psychic” Zeena (Toni Collette). Her partner is the alcoholic Pete (David Strathairn) with whom Stanton will start learning the secrets of the craft, and he will also charm the young performer Molly (Rooney Mara).

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When he masters all the secrets of the craft and when this highly ambitious guy becomes a first-class magician, he will take Molly away and start performing on the big stage in the city and earning serious money. But the problem is that there are always even bigger manipulators, cheaters and magicians, so they will team up with psychiatrist Lillith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) and throw themselves into a dangerous business by presenting themselves as a medium that can communicate with the dead. Obviously, people have always had a habit of believing what they want to hear, and this business will go very well, but blinded by ambition, Stanton seems to convince himself that he can do what he wants, which will lead to a complete fiasco.

The finale itself was by far the best part of the film for me, and Stanton will end up there as a character in a Greek tragedy, and fate will play it nicely. Visuality is one of the strongest trump cards of “Nightmare Alley”, so the first half of the circus is dark, dirty, muddy and we meet people like we could meet in, say, “Fruits of Wrath”. The other part that takes place in the city is dazzling, full of colors, like we’re in “The Great Gatsby,” and what connects them is actually Stanton. A guy who may seem like a tormented but intelligent young man with an unfortunate destiny at first, but as time goes on, he will become an increasingly vile, corrupt guy who just can’t stop.

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