Beauty in a ‘Nightmare’

Pima Post

“Nightmare Alley”

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Showing at The Loft Cinema

“Film noir” is a term coined by French movie critic Nino Frank to describe a subgenre of detective and mystery movies between the 1940s and 1950s.

The term translates directly to “dark” or “black” films. Movies in this genre are literally and figuratively dark: The lighting is dim to create gloom, and shadows are heavily employed to form an atmosphere of mystery.

Their overarching themes include murder, double-crossing, pessimism or romantic betrayal. The characters in the genre are cynics motivated by selfishness or pure evil, who embark on an immoral and tragic journey.

It’s the opposite approach Guillermo del Toro has to his usual character studies. His protagonists tend to be fantastical creatures with redeeming and good-hearted qualities who teach humanity to people.

But in “Nightmare Alley,” the Oscar-winning filmmaker steered away from his unique genre of heartwarming fantasy-horror to readapt the 1946 novel of the same name.

It is the second adaptation of the novel, but it is a different take on it, a darker and more violent one that makes it a pure film noir.

“Nightmare Alley” feels like a classic of the genre — the lighting and use of shadows are exquisite. The acting and frame shots are reminiscent of an older Hollywood style, and the 1940s United States was recreated with great detail and style.

Even if there are no magical creatures in this movie, del Toro still makes use of mystical imagery and symbolism, like the prevalent appearances of eyes signifying an all-seeing presence lording over the characters.

Del Toro and his wife, Kim Morgan (a film historian), wrote a perfectly paced screenplay. It helps the movie retain these classical elements — even if some aspects of it, like film or sound quality, feel modern because of advancements in technology.

Both probably will get Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay, and he also will get nominated for Best Director and Movie.  

Bradley Cooper plays Stan Carlisle and might have a chance to get his fourth Best Actor Oscar nomination for his chilling performance.

However, Cate Blanchett has better odds of getting nominated a fourth time for Best Supporting Actress (an award she also has won before).

She also has won the Best Actress award and currently is ranked fourth in Variety’s Oscar nominations power rankings in this category.

Blanchett gave a terrific performance, embodying the character of Dr. Lilith Ritter. Her demeanor and delivery are so authentic to the genre that you could drop her off on a 1949 film noir, and people wouldn’t have known she was a time traveler from the 2020s.

Something to also keep an eye out for is that besides biopics, the academy also loves movies and roles reminiscent of old Hollywood.

Ron Perlman was cast perfectly for a small part that no one else could’ve played, and the rest of the cast is full of Oscar nominees and winners.

Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Toni Collette and Mary Steenburger were all great at their roles, and their excellent acting made sure the darkness of the story didn’t make the movie feel slow. 

“Nightmare Alley” is a departure from what you would expect from its filmmaker, but it’s one of the best movies of 2021. 

It’s a tale of fatalism and cynically mocks the concept of hope, the main character is a 1940s grifter with a 2020s tech giant’s greed who begins his longest con in a rural American carnival.

Del Toro has stated in various interviews that this movie is about the flip side of the American dream — a nightmare — and he depicted that nightmare through a stylish and beautifully crafted movie.