Piako Post

Compelling, star-studded Nightmare a must-see

- Nightmare Alley

(R13, 150mins)

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro ★★★★★

Reviewed by James Croot

Fortune has not smiled on Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper). Deciding to cut his losses, he torches his family home and takes a bus to the end of the line. It’s there though that he encounters a travelling carnival.

With a thundersto­rm impending, they offer him cash in exchange for helping them to break down the attraction­s.

Then, when their ‘‘geek’’ gets loose, he successful­ly helps safely round them up, earning the respect of his handler Clem (Willem Dafoe) and others within the troupe. They include tarot reader and clairvoyan­t Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn). ‘‘You can peddle for me,’’ she purrs, while offering him a hot bath. ‘‘You’re going to do just fine honey. You’ve got panache – and you’re easy on the eye.’’

Stanton though, only has his gaze fixed on Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), the carnival’s ‘‘Electric Girl’’. As he learns the tricks of the mind-reading trade and the importance of showmanshi­p, he’s also eager to parlay those skills into helping Molly make her act even more spectacula­r and marketable.

However, he’s also appalled by how audiences barrack and ‘‘handle’’ her, becoming increasing­ly determined to find a way for the two of them to run away and start a new life. But there are those, also apparently looking out for Molly’s best interests, who believe Stanton’s influence isn’t in them.

A re-adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, rather than a remake of the movie that debuted the following year, Nightmare Alley may initially feel like Guillermo Del Toro’s answer to Tim Burton’s Big Fish, but this is very much a movie of two-halves (the second being more akin to Christophe­r Nolan’s The Prestige).

Dusty, dirty and dank settings are replaced by more salubrious and luxuriant surrounds, as this haunting 1930s and ‘40s-set neo-noir compelling­ly charts Stanton’s rise and fall.

As you’d expect from a Del Toro ( The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak) production, the costuming is exquisite, cinematogr­aphy immersivel­y evocative and the production design occasional­ly breathtaki­ng. Sets are sometimes so detailed you find yourself constantly scanning across the frame to drink in all their delights. Likewise, Nathan Johnson’s ( Knives Out) jarring score adds to the atmosphere of unease and danger.

The screenplay, co-written by Del Toro with his new wife Kim Morgan, crackles with tension and menace, offering plenty of twists and turns, before delivering its thrilling, gripping finale and a both shocking and deeply satisfying de´nouement. And while the pacing may be a little sluggish for those used to modern-day blockbuste­r movie-making, it allows the many characters their moments to shine and feel more than just archetypes.

Which is probably why Del Toro has attracted what is probably one of the best ensembles in a major Hollywood film in years. Cooper ( A Star is Born) is outstandin­g as Stanton, playing to both his charismati­c strengths and upending expectatio­ns as his ‘‘performer’’ becomes seduced by fame and fortune. If it wasn’t for Will Smith (in the more Awards-friendly King Richard), this might have been his best chance of securing an Oscar for Best Actor.

Support for him comes in many forms, from Dafoe’s creepy Clem to the maternal Collette, a luminous, but fragile Mara and menacing turns from both Richard Jenkins and Ron Perlman. Then there’s Cate Blanchett, who all but steals the show in the femme fatale role she was born to play. Lilith Ritter is a conniving, complex, but seemingly conflicted psychologi­st, a magnificen­t creation who helps drive Nightmare Alley (and Stanton) towards its final frames.

A movie that deserves to be seen in all its rich, neo-noirish glory on the biggest screen you can find, it is also a film that will have you rethinking your use of the word ‘‘geek’’.

❚ After making its New Zealand debut as the opening night movie of Auckland’s In the Shade Film Festival on Thursday , Nightmare Alley is now screening in cinemas nationwide.

 ?? ?? Nightmare Alley is a movie that deserves to be seen in all its rich, neo-noirish glory on the biggest screen you can find.
Nightmare Alley is a movie that deserves to be seen in all its rich, neo-noirish glory on the biggest screen you can find.

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