Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley ★★★★½

Guillermo del Toro is drunk on Old Hollywood. Combining classical glitz and glamour with his innately Grand Guignol sensibility, he emphasizes the illusion of cinema to interrogate the irresponsible half-truths we tell each other and the insidious fables we spin for ourselves. Each character in Nightmare Alley is either subscribing to a false reality or attempting to sell one, and Bradley Cooper's tortured, Don Draper-esque huckster finds himself on both sides of the aisle over the course of the film's expansive, languorous narrative. Drawing inspiration from the original novel and its 1940s film adaptation, del Toro and Kim Morgan's script feels appropriately literary, with considerable time jumps, flashbacks, and a gradual slide from gothic romance to bloodthirsty noir. Though its idiosyncratic vignettes occasionally play as digressions, rest assured: we're in good hands, and every minute detail packs a wallop by the end. The film is pulp, to be sure, but it's pulp of the highest order, immaculately cast and produced, shocking viewers out of their seats with spectacle one minute and stunning them into silence with existential quandaries the next.

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