April 14, 2024

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) – A masterful remake of a classic tale

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nightmare Alley is a remake of the 1947 black and white movie that starred Tyrone Power. It is based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham. As I have neither seen the 1947 movie or read the original novel before, this brand new adaptation by famed director Guillermo del Toro is my first exposure to the story. Guillermo del Toro’s version runs a whooping two and a half hours. But I am not complaining, because his Nightmare Alley is simply mesmerising from start to finish. It tells the epic story of a mysterious and charming young man who raises to become a successful mentalist after joining a carnival and learning the trade.

Here is a movie that has a compelling story to tell, and Toro simply adds on his mastery in direction with amazing performances by a superb cast, combined with a visual style that engages the audience with its tight framing and noir flavour. From the colourful and sometimes gritty setting of the carnival grounds to the glamourous homes and entertainment halls of the rich and powerful. Toro transport us to the 1940’s effortlessly with great looking sets, costumes and cinematography. Even the mainly piano based music soundtrack by Nathan Johnson takes on a persona of its own as its adds to the noir ambience. Bradley Cooper takes on the role of the main character Stanton and he is excellent in it. It is mainly a story told from Stanton’s point of view as he is in almost every scene! He is supported by equally strong performances by Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, and Rooney Mara.

Nightmare Alley is an old fashioned kind of movie. The kind that has a great story to tell, and told well. It is what cinema used to be and should be today. I am glad we still have great directors like Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott and Kenneth Branagh to keep the flame burning gloriously for quality cinema today amidst the oversaturation of films with fantasy or super heroes themes. It helps keep my confidence in movies alive. Even though it manage to garner itself an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (among a total of 10 nominated films for this year), it was mainly overlooked in the acting, directing and screenplay categories. It is hence unlikely to make any impression come Oscar night on March 27th, but no matter. These Hollywood awards are fast becoming irrelevant in today’s world for it to make much of a difference. Nightmare Alley is Best Picture material through and through.

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