In 1939, Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) gets a job at a carnival and takes an interest in a clairvoyant act, learning all the tricks; an accidental death becomes his chance at success. This second screen adaptation of the novel doesn’t move as fast as the slightly superior 1947 version, which becomes an issue in the film’s second half, but it still has all the sights and sounds of a unmissable Guillermo del Toro flick. The carnival gets a wonderfully sinister design and the dark, wintry look of Stan’s later downfall is equally gorgeous. Sublime technical details are matched by compelling performances by Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe in particular, but Cooper also makes a convincing sucker.
2021-U.S. 150 min. Color. Produced by Bradley Cooper, J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan. Novel: William Lindsay Gresham. Cinematography: Dan Laustsen. Music: Nathan Johnson. Production Design: Tamara Deverell. Costume Design: Luis Sequeira. Cast: Bradley Cooper (Stanton ”Stan” Carlisle), Cate Blanchett (Lilith Ritter), Toni Collette (Zeena Krumbein), Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara… Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Tim Blake Nelson.
Trivia: Leonardo DiCaprio was reportedly first considered for the lead.
Last word: “We were going into this scene [the film’s last], which was, we know, the most important scene in the movie, the one why we made the movie, all of us. Then we realized that we had to shoot it weeks before we had planned it, because we had an emergency. We had hurricane-level winds, and we knew that we would either lose the day or shoot it. We said, ‘Well, let’s do it. Let’s try it.’ And we got it in that first try. I think the way you work with an actor for one scene is [how] you’ve been working with that actor for weeks. In other words, now we had a common language, my instincts and his instincts lined up, and we were like two gazelles in a forest fire.” (del Toro, Vanity Fair)