Darkest passage

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (15, 150 minutes)

Not just any remake of a 1947 film noir, this is a Guillermo del Toro movie, which means the noir is going to be even darker (noir-er?) and the vision ultra stylised to the point of other worldliness.

This star-laden morality tale (if a story that lacks any morality at all can be called as such) of greed and deception in the every man (and woman) for themselves world of post depression America is, for all the ugliness of its subject matter, a thing of beauty to behold from the deft post production colour tweaks to the extremes of set design from muddy poverty to opulent prosperity.

Grifter Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) finds work as a labourer with a travelling carnival show and sees a way out of his hand to mouth existence when he befriends the show’s clairvoyant (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband (David Strathairn), who teaches him a mind reading scam that opens up possibilities to make big money from exploiting the desperation of others.

There are no heroes in this dog eat dog story, although Stanton’s fight to come out on top in a world designed to keep him down is, I suppose as close as it gets, even if on the surface he is a damaged figure with no redeeming qualities driven by the insecurity of feeling that for all his expensive suits he is still that same cheap trickster one step away from sleeping on a mattress in the back of a carnival tent.

Cooper gives a sterling performance in a role he wasn’t even first choice for (only being approached by the director after Leonardo DiCaprio pulled out). Given that the actor had decided that he would only act in things he had written himself from now on, the decision to join a party he had not been invited to previously is one he won’t be regretting anytime soon and I would expect him to be called upon again in future.

Of course, film noir requires a femme fatale and Cate Blanchett absolutely Bacalls the the balls out of the role here as a psychoanalyst with dubious motives who steers Stanton towards a high risk, massive reward con over a ruthless tycoon, played by del Toro ensemble favourite Richard Jenkins.

But is the manipulator himself now being manipulated?

Nightmare Alley is pretty to look at in its stark portrayal of the cruelty and ugliness of the human condition in which there is always someone who wants something someone else has.

Like an award, maybe.

RATING: 8/10

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]