A dark parable that casts viewers as adjudicator and soothsayer, signalling the ending and waiting for the main character to catch up to his destiny. The supernatural elements Del Toro is most famous for are relegated here to set dressing and production value, building the world and genre encroaching upon the troubled soul we follow, from carnival trappings to brutalist art deco noir and back again.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Why is the call of the carnival still so strong even though they’re barely a thing anymore? Every time I’m overwhelmed, I hear Willem Dafoe’s voice ushering me towards a field somewhere. That’s normal, right?”
Card gambling and casinos function as a sort of purgatory for a man with “moral weight” in this darker and more timely than expected character study. A safe prison of his choosing, in which he can exist away from the cycles of reality like revenge and hate. Those cycles are just outside, though, scratching at the door. I’m trying very hard to write like Paul Schrader and I think I probably failed. Good movie, though.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “I learned a lot about card counting, blackjack, poker, torture, casino culture, and Abu Ghraib.”
A moody detective story that feels way too much like a bargain bin Se7en until it suddenly doesn’t and deliberately pulls away from those comparisons with some telegraphed (but welcome) plot turns.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Jared Leto is definitely playing a wonky vampire in this otherwise grounded detective flick and I don’t care what you say because that just makes the movie better in my head. It also low-key takes place around Halloween, which I feel lends credence to this being a vampire movie.”