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Nightmare Alley – Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley in theaters December 17th.

Four years after The Shape of Water hit theaters, Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro is back with his long-awaited follow-up, Nightmare Alley. This psychological thriller boasts an all-star cast and an unsettling atmosphere that Del Toro is known for. Nightmare Alley is like Bioshock meets The Wolf of Wall Street.

Bradley Cooper stars as swindling con man Stan Carlisle with a hidden violent side. The movie follows him as he joins a traveling carnival of freaks, tricksters, and performance artists. He picks up skills and scams from his peers before moving on to the real goldmine: scamming rich people. Cooper shines as a smooth-talking scam artist who undergoes a ghastly and frankly well-deserved transformation by the end.

Nightmare Alley Movie Review

The Guardians of the Galaxy star is joined by Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, and Academy Award Winner Cate Blanchett. Additionally, frequent Del Toro collaborators like Ron Perlman and Richard Jenkins play small but memorable roles. Willem Dafoe and Mary Steenburgen round out the main cast.

This could be the finest performance Bradley Cooper has given yet.

There’s never any doubt that he is a gross criminal who will hurt anyone (or worse) to get ahead. But even so, he’s so intensely likable that his schemes are entertaining to watch. Mara is a good foil for Stan, as a wide-eyed dreamer who joins him in his racket. Blanchett plays Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychologist who sees past Stan’s rouse for what he really is. The scene where Dr. Ritter picks Stan apart on her therapy couch is my favorite scene in the movie. Blanchett and Cooper have a ton of chemistry.

Nightmare Alley Poster

Besides the great performances, my favorite aspect of the movie was the script. It’s funny and entertaining and outlines the various scams Stan learns very clearly so that the audience can feel like they’re in on the con. This movie is not a horror film, though it does contain moments of gruesome violence. That might be a turn-off for some, but it’s not depicted gratuitously.

Verdict

I give Nightmare Alley a 9 out of 10. It is certain to be another Oscar contender. With a transformative performance by Bradley Cooper, an entertaining script, and vivid production design, this is a solid follow up to 2017’s The Shape of Water.

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