not even Bradley Cooper can save Guillermo del Toro’s stiff, synthetic thriller

Early on in Nightmare Alley, when Bradley Cooper’s aspiring con man is being trained in the devious art of mind reading, his tutor (David Strathairn) offers him some invaluable advice. With every gambit and every manner, the experienced con man lectures his protégé: “People are dying to tell you who they are”.

That’s undeniably true of Nightmare Alley’s director, Guillermo del Toro – a noted connoisseur of the ghouls and connoisseur of the damned, whose work has always been steeped in admiration for the monsters and outcasts of cinema’s past. In that regard, his latest is business as usual. Not only is it a remake of a particularly gritty 1947 noir — or rather, a new adaptation of the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham on which it was based — it’s also a generous homage to the kind of films whose names As you can imagine the creator of Pan’s Labyrinth used to put Tippex on his school bag.

Ornamental gardens evoke memories of last year in Mariánské Lázně; a funny curtain of eyes peeks back at Hitchcock’s Spellbound. One of its main settings, a tattered carnival of outcasts and eccentrics, owes much to Tod Browning’s 1932 transgressive classic Freaks. But does Del Toro have anything else to tell us besides what he likes?

Perhaps for the first time in his nearly three-decade career, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Del Toro’s first feature film since 2018’s unlikely Oscar-night triumph of The Shape of Water is an origami-level homage: everything is folded together in an impressively fiddly fashion, but the result is an angular, languid approach that takes the breath away of the Originals lack warmth. It’s also just as crisply shot and cartoon-like lit as Del Toro’s 2013 mechs and monsters roaming the Pacific Rim: totally the wrong look for a story full of gray areas and dirt.

Its fatal flaw, however, is a structural one. The screenplay, written by Del Toro and his wife Kim Morgan, splits neatly into two parts, but its second half is excruciatingly drawn out and robs the rise and fall storyline of all the momentum it naturally builds. At two and a half hours, Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is 40 minutes longer than the skinny mean 1940s version starring Tyrone Power, despite telling an almost identical story.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/nightmare-alley-review-bradley-cooper-cant-save-guillermo-del/ not even Bradley Cooper can save Guillermo del Toro’s stiff, synthetic thriller


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