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Nightmare Alley review: A must watch film ★★★★★

4 mins read

Nightmare Alley follows a carnival con man as he deceives his way through 1940’s New York, but just like the tricks in the film, the less you know about it the better.

This is Guillermo del Toro’s first film since he swept the Oscars in 2018 with The Shape of Water and stars Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette and Willem Dafoe. It is the second film to adapt William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, following the 1947 film of the same name.

I loved everything about this, I think that it’s a masterpiece. It’s just one of those special movies where everything seems to work perfectly due to the amount of care put into the production and talent of everyone involved. 

Guillermo del Toro’s direction is stylishly haunting and the film can be quite melancholic while at the same time having a lot of classical charm and romance in it. It feels both like a loving tribute to classical films from the time period and also a disturbing, thrilling tale that truly lives up to its name.

The script by Del Toro and Kim Morgan was really gripping and left me feeling completely satisfied in every way. Although I have not read the original book it seems that fans are happy it was an accurate adaptation. 

Del Toro directing his cast. Image credit: [Searchlight pictures]

Every technical department of the film works perfectly to create both the atmosphere of a charming but creepy carnival of the 30s and also the dashing city life of 40s New York. Whether it’s Dan Lausten’s vibrant and noirish cinematography or Nathan Johnson’s beautiful score, everything worked to create the immersive cities and alleys of this film.

The sound design here also really stood out, every sound is clear and distinct, especially in a scene near the end where a character punches another in the face. The sound work was so well done that you could tell how injured the other character was without even seeing them at first. This was complemented by some fantastic make up effects in the following shot. 

The cast will certainly be a draw for many people to watch this as it is packed with A-list talent. Bradley Cooper gives one of his best performances, he is often subdued but also has lots of charisma and feels like a classic film star, reinforcing his place as one of the best actors working today. Rooney Mara also gives a great performance opposite Cooper, giving the film a lot of it’s emotional weight and heart. 

Cate Blanchett is also fantastic, giving one of her best performances. She perfectly captures everything about her character: she is commanding and devious, with a lot of style. Willem Dafoe is also a highlight, who embodies everything about the carnival manager that he plays- although it would’ve been great if he had a bit more screen time, as you can never have enough Willem Dafoe in your film.

Bradley Cooper as Stan Carlisle. Image credit: [Searchlight pictures]

Unfortunately this movie does not seem like it’s picking up much awards steam this Oscar season, which is a shame because it is definitely one of, if not my favourite, film from this past year. 

It’s definitely worth a watch if you can see it because it’s not only masterfully crafted but it’s also an entertaining time at the cinema.

Feature Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures

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First year film and media student.

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