Coming to Bluray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD from director Guillermo del Toro and Disney is the story of a man who lives through NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a man without a home. Wandering into a carnival, he meets Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe) who offers him a hot meal and a place to rest in exchange for doing labor work. Getting ready to move to their next location, Stanton becomes friendly with Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette) and love Pete (David Strathairn). Their speciality is reading minds to the crowds who are mesmorized at what they know.
Also in the carnival is Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) and Stanton is smitten with her. Protective over the young girl is Bruno (Ron Perlman) and the Major (Mark Povinelli) who are suspicious of the young man. To make the time pass, Stanton asks Pete to train him in the con of mind reading and the elder performer is more than happy to oblige.
When the local police come calling, Stanton realizes it is time to move on, but he wants to do that with Molly. Convincing her that there is a life out their waiting and with the skill he learned from Pete, they could succeed in the big world. At first, they do well with a show that gives them a better life than they could have imagined.
That is until meeting Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who wants to climb inside Stanton’s mind in exchange for information about Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins) who wants to contact someone who is deceased. Making Grindle happy, Stanton gets larger and larger sums of money until he learns what Grindle really wants, the appearance of someone he lost.
Molly discovers what Stanton is doing and who with and decides she has had enough but will help Stanton one more time. What happens next brings Stanton full circle as lies and deceptions bring destruction.
Cooper as Stanton lets his stunning blue eyes do a lot of the talking in the film. Giving people the stare down hides his characters life. Never wanting to tell anyone about his own pain, Dr. Ritter wants to be the one to find out those secrets. Cooper plays his character as straight as one could with the intention of being anything but straight. I felt like his character was consistently in survival mode which brought on poor decisions and trust based on a nice set of red lips. It is Bradley’s final scene that is finally shows the full-on heartbreak of a man who cannot hide any longer.
Mara as Molly is the sweet and innocent young girl who has been protected most of her life. Believing that Stanton could bring her life something safe and different, she goes willingly. It is when Stanton’s demeanor changes does she realize that she was motivated more by love than reason. Collette as Zeena tries to keep everyone focused on the real and not so much the deception of the carnival. Caring for Stanton it is clear she wants to steer him away from the place Pete tried to keep him from. Collette is straight forward and perceptive in her role.
Blanchett as Dr. Ritter comes in with the elegance and grace of a starlet of the times. Her moves and speech are deliberate, and man can she control a room. I just love watching her glide through the deception to get what she wants. Blanchett has the amazing ability to play both a sweet and gentle role with the same ease as one that is not so much. Of course, she will always be Galadriel the ethereal to me!
Jenkins as Grindle is a man that Ritter warns Stanton about as being unstable. Telling his secrets, Stanton plays into his grief and guilt about something in his past. Grindle wants more and the more is what sets up a chain reaction that is horrendous. Jenkins gives his character moments of a combination of sheer desperation and sheer threat. A combination this actor has no problem portraying or making believable.
Strathairn as Pete is a man who has seen what going too far looks like in the mind reading world. Each of te carnies have their demons and reasons for being where they are, and Pete is no exception. Stanton actually seems to care about the elder performer, and I actually enjoyed watching the two characters interact.
Perlman as Bruno wants to fulfill his obligation to Molly’s father by keeping an eye on her and Stanton is not his idea of a future husband. Povinelli as Major it equally concerned about the young lady and never takes his eyes off the carnival usurper.
Other cast includes Peter MacNeill as Judge Kimball, Holt McCallany as Anderson, Lara Chorostecki as Louise, Jim Beaver as Sheriff Judd, Clifton Collins Jr. as Funhouse Jack, and Mary Steenburgen as Mrs. Kimball.
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Bonus Features include Del Toro’s Neo Noir – Writer-director Guillermo del Toro and his standout cast decipher the dark, complicated world of Nightmare Alley. The filmmaker reveals how his take on noir is rooted in classic cinema but offers an accessible, modern narrative.
Beneath the Tarp – Production designer Tamara Deverell and her talented team skillfully delivered both a decaying traveling carnival world and a gilded Art Deco high society with striking visuals. We explore how this design supported del Toro’s genre-bending filmmaking.
Also included is What Exists in the Fringe – Costume designer Luis Sequeira unravels his collaboration with Guillermo del Toro and reveals the symbolism that’s constantly at play in the film’s carefully crafted wardrobe’s design.
The 1947 version of NIGHTMARE ALLEY with Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell has always been on my favorite black and white noir list. I love Sundays curled up in the quiet of my home watching ‘old’ films and it is because of the style, grace and majesty they bring. Truly not a huge fan of remakes and del Toro did give it a lux feel, but still, black and white would have been stunning.
That being said, the cast of NIGHTMARE ALLEY gave their own version of style and grace. Every move is calculated and every role in the carnivals beginning has its place in settling up the fall of one of their own. I love a good art-nouveau-cigarette-sharing-stiff-drink-suspenseful-what’s-going-to-happen-next piece. Pull up a comfy sofa and let the carnival world take you away.
In the end – he was born for this!