Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley ★★★★

Is he man or beast?

I now understand why Paul Schrader said in a Facebook post that this is Guillermo's best movie, and why as I was almost finished with it, William Friedkin tweeted out that he loved it too. It's essentially del Toro doing a God's lonely man trip on the most slimy yet fascinating huckster you can imagine. Sprinkle in a little Tim Burton magical realism to its aesthetic despite being del Toro's first non-fantasy movie, as well as the bitter and black as sin nihilism of something like Friedkin's Sorcerer, and you have yourself a movie that I'm almost frustrated I didn't hear was as good as I thought it was. (Thinking on it, this is also if Big Fish was a noir with zero of its sentimentality.) Purely from a practical standpoint, this film I think is delightful to experience. So rich in its setting, its usage of space and atmosphere, you'd almost wish del Toro had made a noir sooner if it was always going to be this dripping in texture. Also thought its usage of violence was incredible, rare until the final act, but utterly visceral when you see someone get hit or shot. There's a lot of blood, and pieces of flesh that fly off. Gnarly stuff. A well-rounded cast all around give the exact kind of performances they should, the whole thing topped by a strong performance from Bradley Cooper. On top of being dashingly handsome here, there's an allure to his Stanton Carlisle, a stench that reeks throughout the entire film. He's hard to trust, but captivating to watch as he swindles from place to place and person to person. Nightmare Alley ends up all about where a life of lying gets you: Rock fuckin' bottom. The end is spelled out at the start, even if I hadn't seen the original film prior to this one, but it didn't help from making the ending here in particular rather devastating and just powerful to witness in its sheer destructive nature of a man's spirit. The best kind of noir is when its protagonist suffers by the end, and it tugs you back and forth like a ragdoll on whether or not it was deserved. Lastly want to thank this movie for now making Willem Dafoe my most-watched actor of 2021. That man and his unforgettable face deserve the top spot. I hope to God more people get to see this when it's on VOD, truly deserves acclaim, and likely to go down as one of the most underrated of the year.

8.5/10

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