Writer/producer/director Guillermo del Toro has been nominated for five Academy Awards and has won two so far. In 2018 his film, The Shape of Water, took home Oscars for Best Director and Best Motion Picture of the year. However, he has been making highly stylized, often dark films since the early 2000s and his body of work speaks for itself. His movies have a certain "feel" to them and watching one, the viewer knows they are experiencing a cinematic work of art. His latest effort, a remake of the 1947 movie, Nightmare Alley, is no exception and Disney naturally has released it for sale in 4K.
In 1939, Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper; Limitless) burned his house down and ran away to the circus. At first, he is nothing more than a road hand but over time he befriends a "clairvoyant" named Madame Zeena (Toni Collette; Knives Out) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn; L.A. Confidential) and learns their trade. He also becomes enamored with another performer named Molly (Rooney Mara; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The two eventually leave the circus and Stan becomes a clairvoyant with Molly as his assistant. At one of their shows, they are challenged by Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett; Blue Jasmine), as she tries to prove he is a fraud. However, Stan and Lilith come to an agreement, conceive a plan, and swindle rich people in Buffalo out of their money.
Only del Toro could assemble such a talented cast. Cooper is perfect as the deceptive, conniving Stan but Blanchett outsmarts him and the two together are like lightning onscreen. Colette is once again brilliant and even her brief time in the film is memorable. Besides Strathairn and Mara, the cast also includes Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), and Mary Steenburgen (Stepbrothers) and each actor is more brilliant than the next.
The HDR10 video quality with 2160p resolution makes this film look nearly perfect. Even with del Toro's muted color palette scenes are clean and sharp. The curves and grittiness of the circus versus the clean lines of Buffalo each have their own aesthetic but are no less detailed than the other. Their contrast is obvious, but their similarities are also evident which is a testament to del Toro's ability as a filmmaker.
The Dolby Atmos audio is rich and full of the ambient sounds of the circus to the almost near silence of Ritter's office. Gunshots bounce from speaker to speaker and dialogue can easily be heard despite background noise (especially at the circus). The less than 30 minutes of extras are a little disappointing as I'm sure there could be so much more. Perhaps they are being saved for a special edition release, sometime in the future. Besides the 4K and Blu-ray discs, there is a digital download code and three extras which are Del Toro's Neo-Noir, Beneath the Tarp, and What Exists in the Fringe.
Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, said it best. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive". Nightmare Alley is the epitome of that saying, as Clem (Dafoe) deceives the circus patrons, Stan deceives his audiences and Ritter deceives Stan. The concept is as old as time and with del Toro at the helm and an outstanding group of actors, the movie should be an award winner. However, unlike some of his previous films, Nightmare Alley drags on and doesn't especially connect all the dots, which is a shame because it encompasses all the pieces to have been an amazing film. Sadly, it's just okay.