Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 movie Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my all time favourite movies to date and since then he has only made six films, with only one The Shape Of Water being anything of note for me.
I was therefore very interested in seeing his latest movie, the neo-noir psychological, remake Nightmare Alley.
Set initially in a depressed and seedy Midwest freak show, we meet psychologically damaged Stan ( Bradley Cooper) a natural grifter with a knack of reading people. He is taken in by the unscrupulous show owner Clem ( a wonderfully seedy Willem Defoe) and teams up with the moral but alcoholic Pete ( David Strathairn ) his wife Madam Zeema ( Toni Collette) and showgirl Molly (Rooney Mara)
Learning the ways of duping the public, Stan and Molly start a successful clairvoyant show in the city, here Stan meets the mysterious Dr Ritter ( Cate Blanchet) a psychologist with whom he teams up with in order to con a famous businessman but their relationship is complex with both playing psychological games with each other and things eventually dissolve into tragedy.
Del Toro grabs the new-noir mantle very early on in this movie and produces a nightmarish, slightly unreal world of a run down carnival heavy with poverty, ruthlessness and regret from the get go.
It’s a wonderfully shot and cleverly observed piece cinema.
Cooper is charismatic and incredibly believable as the damaged Stan who through childhood abuse had learned to manipulate and film flam people, Colette and Defoe are standouts from the carnival scenes with Blanchet matching Cooper quite nicely as the the two circle each other psychologically , like two predators looking forward a weakness.
It’s a tense, bleak, violent and beautiful looking film
Which leaves the audience unsettled and on edge by the time the last reel rolls.