May 24, 2022

In Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley”, a gallery of dark and sublime characters

CINEMA – Four years after the sublime The Shape of Water at the 4 Oscars, Guillermo Del Toro returns with a dark thriller that immerses us in the tents of a traveling funfair from the 1930s where “monsters and wonders” occur in incredible settings. And in the scenario a bit slow but well put together Nightmare Alley, at the cinema on January 19, the gallery of characters is particularly tasty.

Adapted from the novel by American William Lindsay Gresham (published under the title The Charlatan in France in 1948), the feature film tells the rise and fall of Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper). Trained by the clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) in the techniques of mentalism, the former vagabond sets out to defraud the elite of New York’s wealthy society. But obsessed with his thirst for wealth, Carlisle joins forces with a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who is more dangerous than him.

Stanton Carlisle, the mentalist

Stanton Carlisle is Bradley Cooper, who is almost every shot of the 2:30 film. A vagrant who flees a past as painful as it is secret and becomes a member of a troupe of misfits. Stanton Carlisle gradually gains the trust of others by using dishonesty and ends up setting up his own mentalist act. He then realizes that he can make a living by using his number to offer fake comfort to the wealthy who are grieving.

Halfway through the film, Stanton Carlisle thus leaves the raw and dusty world of the fair to slip with the ease of a chameleon into the sophistication and refinement of the rich hotels and performance halls of New York. This is where he performs and meets his future victims.

“Bradley brings something incredibly moving to Stanton. He has all the goodness, physical beauty and grace that goes into understanding what Carlisle could become. But at the same time, he had the talent to create a devastatingly dark character,” comments director Guillermo Del Toro in the film’s production notes about its lead actor who is sure to compete for the Oscars.

The trailer of Nightmare Alley can be seen below:

Molly Cahill, the “electric woman”

If the character embodied by Bradley Cooper is undoubtedly central in this feature film, he is surrounded by three very strong female characters. And it starts with Molly Cahill, artist of the troupe who performs under the stage name of Elektra, the electric woman.

Overprotected by the patriarchs of the troupe who take a very dim view of her rapprochement with Stanton, the young woman played by Rooney Mara (Millennium, Her) takes his independence to follow the mentalist in New York. And tries everything to keep him on the straight and narrow. Innocent but strong, she also plays one of the crucial roles in Stanton’s greatest illusion…

Zeena Krumbein, la cartomancienne

This is the actress Toni Collette, seen recently in the series Unbelievable, who plays Zeena, a tarot expert and the head of a very popular fortune-telling number. Together with her husband Pete, a once-brilliant ex-partner, but now an alcoholic, they become Stan’s mentors. They give him (almost) all their stuff but also warn him about the dangers of the illusion.

“Stan comes into her life and uses her to get closer to Pete and learn his number. Then he abandons her for Molly”, describes producer J. Miles Dale. “Toni’s character is really pathetic and she plays it beautifully. She’s strong and sexy, but also moving, like someone who always yearned for something bigger.”

Clem Hoatley, the Ringmaster

“One minute Clem is smiling, the next he’s sticking a razor down your throat.” Clem Hoatley is the director of the troupe, brilliantly played by Willem Dafoe. As threatening as he is protective of his artists, he is the first to take a drifting Stanton under his wing at the start of the film.

“Everyone is there to cheat everyone, but at the same time, they know they need each other, and they protect each other,” says Guillermo Del Toro of his colorful showmen.

Ringmaster of the fair, Clem Hoatley is also the master of the dark attraction of the “geek”. Under this marquee, a man pretending to be an animal sleeps in a cage and decapitates living animals with his teeth to frighten visitors.

Dr. Lilith Ritter, the fatal psychoanalyst

Last but not least, Dr. Lilith Ritter is arguably the most chilling femme fatale in history. A Freudian psychoanalyst from the high spheres of New York, the heroine embodied by an impeccable Cate Blanchett officiates in a luxurious office all in lacquered wood and in haute couture outfits.

Undoubtedly as tortured but more intelligent than Stanton, Lilith Ritter applies herself to wanting to understand everything about the psyche of the character of Bradley Cooper. To better be able to destroy it.

“Lilith also has a dark past. She has her own thirst for revenge and is shown to be very intelligent. Watching Cate and Bradley work together was like watching a titanic battle, a duel between two equally brilliant manipulators,” says producer J. Miles Dale.

In the United States, where the film has already been released, it has largely convinced critics. The prestigious magazine Varietydescribes “a splendid and fantastically sinister moral fable about the cruel predictability of human nature and how whole systems are designed to exploit it”. While some specialists see it as “the best performance of Bradley Cooper’s career”. Nightmare Alley by Guillermo Del Toro hits theaters this Wednesday, January 19.

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