‘Nightmare Alley’ a profound cinematic dream


By James Luksic - [email protected]



This image by Searchlight Pictures shows Bradley Cooper, left, and Rooney Mara in a scene from “Nightmare Alley.”

This image by Searchlight Pictures shows Bradley Cooper, left, and Rooney Mara in a scene from “Nightmare Alley.”


Searchlight Pictures via AP

LIMA — With the extraordinary “Nightmare Alley,” director Guillermo del Toro has outdone himself.

Until now, his finest works included fantastical “Pan’s Labyrinth,” 2017 Academy Award winner “The Shape of Water” and the 1997 undervalued gem “Mimic.”

Based on the 1947 original, del Toro’s latest is a neo-noir thriller that spotlights a forlorn drifter (Bradley Cooper), who flees a burning home and ends up at a seedy carnival circa 1940 New York.

He assists a freak-show barker (Willem Dafoe) before joining forces with a clairvoyant and mentalist (Toni Collette and David Strathairn) – the latter of whom advises our hero: “It ain’t hope if it’s a lie.”

The drifter then pursues a modest beauty (Rooney Mara), with whom he takes his manipulation show on the road, to the chagrin of strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman).

While performing at a nightclub, the protagonist meets a psychiatrist (frosty Cate Blanchett) and soon gets hired by a tycoon (greybeard Richard Jenkins) who wants to communicate with his late wife.

The filmmaker, along with co-writer Kim Morgan, bring to the fore timeless themes of hope, desperation, love, deceit, greed and death. They are confidently laid out in a coherent manner with profound and tasty dialogue, which Blanchett and Jenkins articulate with fervor.

The star-studded production, gloriously shot in nondescript Buffalo, looks impeccable at every turn – particularly during the house fire scenes involving a bed-ridden old man. The art direction and cinematography, at times ostentatious (the type often found in Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson pictures) are something to behold.

Del Toro doesn’t deviate much from the source material, William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, and breathes life into the 75-year-old story.

The director benefits from his central actor: On the heels of his “A Star is Born” popularity, Cooper earned this formidable role and continues to exhibit the chops and charisma to succeed. It’s also intriguing to see Mara reunited with Blanchett, her on-screen lover in 2015’s acclaimed “Carol.”

It could be argued this version of “Nightmare Alley” feels overblown, dragging to the finish line (‘tis the season) after 2 hours and 25 minutes. That beef would hold more weight if it weren’t crafted in the capable hands of a skilled visionary with a cast of consummate pros.

Del Toro was gutsy enough to undertake such a massive endeavor and – like the movie’s main character – pulls it off with panache.

https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/12/web1_StarRating-4.jpg
This image by Searchlight Pictures shows Bradley Cooper, left, and Rooney Mara in a scene from “Nightmare Alley.”
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/12/web1_AP21348604508730.jpgThis image by Searchlight Pictures shows Bradley Cooper, left, and Rooney Mara in a scene from “Nightmare Alley.” Searchlight Pictures via AP

By James Luksic

[email protected]

Reach James Luksic at 567-242-0399.

Reach James Luksic at 567-242-0399.

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