From the very opening scene of Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley it is clear that lovers of film noir are about to experience something very special. The film’s yet to be identified protagonist Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) disposes of a dead body by setting fire to an entire house and then heads out into the night with barely any possessions on him and no destination other than to get far away from whatever it is he has done and wants to leave behind. He is a mystery man with ambiguous morals, a dark past and seemingly nothing to lose; played to perfection by Cooper, he is completely fascinating and magnetic. He is the classic anti-hero of the group of darkly shot and darkly themed American films known as film noir that were prominent in the 1940s and 1950s where the male protagonists were cynical, down-and-out, world-wearily or all of the above, and their misadventures within the cruel, corrupt and seedy underbelly of American society more often than not lead to their downfall. Adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel and set in the late 1930s – first in a travelling carnival and then in the Art Deco buildings of Buffalo, New York – Nightmare Alley relishes the rich history of noir and the many elements of the pre-war era that laid its foundations.
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