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The Crack Magazine


Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, David Stathairn

Guillermo del Toro’s strengths often feel like weaknesses in this immaculately-realised but fussy and overlong remake of the classic 1947 film noir picture. Cooper is Stan Carlisle, a lowlife leading an itinerant lifestyle after torching a house in mysterious circumstances. He manages to find work as a labourer and all-round dogsbody at a carnival presided over by Willem Dafoe’s blithely amoral barker Hoatley. Quick on the uptake and observant, Stan begins to study the act of mind-reader Zeena (Collette) and her alcoholic husband and helper (Strathairn), and before long he has memorised their codes and signals. He persuades a beautiful young carnival co-worker Molly (Mara), whose act consists of conducting electricity through her body, to run away with him to form a classier high-end nightclub show in which he reinvents himself as a suave spiritualist. Then he encounters Dr Lilith Ritter (Blanchett), a corrupt femme fatale psychiatrist and using her insider knowledge they begin to scam the wealthy. The overcrowded set of characters and filigreed production design, along with slightly hammy performances, are often a distraction from what should be a lean and mean noirish drama. Thankfully, Del Toro and the excellent Cooper manage to turn it around in the last reel for a dramatically satisfying conclusion, as Stan completes his character journey.

David Willoughby

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm