Film Review: “Nightmare Alley” (2021)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The nature of man is to think he is superior to others. With a charming and hypnotizing look, coupled with persuasive language and gentle manners, they can fool anyone. The truth is, once you go up the ladder, climbing up towards stardom and greatness, there is only one way to go after – down.

“Nightmare Alley” centers around the handsome, confident and exceptionally skilled at deception, Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), whose ambitions and self-love has no limits. When he gets the chance to learn a few tricks in reading people’s minds, he hooks up with a psychiatrist, Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who also has a game of her own. When the two come together, they begin to execute their grandiose plans that soon falls apart badly.

In the beginning, when he leaves the burned house behind with a dead body in it, you already know he is up to no good. But then, he shows up at the small circus, finds a job, and becomes an important man. When he befriends Pete, a man with great wisdom and charm but fallen to the addiction of alcohol, Stan gets a chance to take Pete’s book in the hope to learn his tricks. Tricks that can give him the status of God on Earth, until the moment when he meets the dangerous Dr Litter to realize – he is just a cheap servant.

The cast of the film is so big that you ask yourself – who else got in? But apart from the stellar performances, it’s the technicality of the film that is so strong, you can hardly find something else that beats it. The visual effects, cinematography, editing and direction are top level. Strong screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan and adapted from the novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham and directed by Guillermo del Toro himself, it’s indeed this year’s most extravagant, dark and beautifully crafted psychological thriller.

Going back to the cast, it features an impressive list of names, including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, William Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, and Mary Steenburgen. The film is a re-adaptation of the novel, and with the way it is done, I must say, is exquisite, beautiful and mesmerizing. Bradley Cooper delivers the performance of a lifetime, while Cate Blanchett is so effective as Dr Litter, you wonder, whether there was a reincarnation that happened?

The film opens up the power of deception, the ability of a man to convince, and put himself onto a pedestal. Cooper’s character thinks he is so smart that he can fool everyone. But the reality is, all his clients want to be fooled. Because every swindler believes he is the best and nobody can beat him or her in his game. However, “Nightmare Alley” proves – it’s easy-peasy if an opponent is much stronger and anyone can be crushed. As for Blanchett, her performance is monumental and the closing scene is the moment that, most likely, will bring Cooper his long-waited Oscar. Despite seeing so many good performances, he seems to be, by far, the best.

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