Dark and foreboding, this is a film about carnival carnies, men and women, who milked the public and occasionally themselves.
Only Guillermo del Toro has the talent to make a depressing movie entertaining. Here he brings to life the circus carnivals that used to bring their rides and freak shows to rural America.
In summary fashion, Bradley Cooper plays Stan Carlisle, a disreputable soul who stumbles on a circus with unknown intentions. Given a job by the sideshow proprietor played by Willem Dafoe, he quickly learns how to fake reading minds with the help of Toni Collette and her alcoholic husband, David Strathairn.
He eventually leaves with Rooney Mara, who has been performing as an electrified girl. He decides to take his mind reading talent to a larger, wealthier crowd. However, the conman gets conned when he hooks up with Cate Blanchett, a nasty psychiatrist who is as devilish as she is beautiful.
Things go horribly wrong for Carlisle, leading him back to the carnival to survive where he can only hide in what is known as a Geek Show. You need to see this movie to have any chance at grasping its meaning.
This film is not as compelling as del Toro’s Oscar winning The Shape of Water (2018), but that was not his intention. This cinematic nightmare could haunt your dreams, so be prepared to recognize much of our country as being filled with carnival barkers who strive to do little more than fleece your bank accounts.
It reminded me of the “Carnival Barker” TV ads that encourage the gullible public to bet on sporting events. Guess who gets taken to the cleaners?