The Stream: A lot of set up making the first hour very slow.
The Big Screen: Bradley Cooper kills it.
The Final Bill: Despite a slow start, Nightmare Alley is stylish and intriguing with big payoff for those paying attention.– Tripp Fontaine
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, and Cate Blanchett
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Rating: Rated R for strong/bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity and language
Runtime: 2 hours 30 minutes
Production Companies: Double Dare You (DDY), Searchlight Pictures, TSG Entertainment
Platform: Only in theaters December 17, 2021
Step right up, Streamers! Step right up! Every carnival has a few tricks up its sleeves. A little misdirection here, a little sleight of hand there, but it’s all in the name of entertainment and spectacle. Sometimes audiences liked to get fooled. Master auteur, Guillermo del Toro is the carnival barker of Nightmare Alley. He definitely has some tricks up his sleeves. Have you seen Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak or The Shape of Water?!? Well, here’s what’s behind Nightmare Alley‘s curtain. (No spoilers, of course)
Guillermo del Toro directed Nightmare Alley into a stylish noir film about a mysterious drifter, who becomes part of a carnival and learns some tricks to improve his station in life. The film is a second adaptation of a novel with the same name. Del Toro uses a 1940’s aesthetic to depict the story of the ruthlessness of ambition and seediness of human nature with Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) as the main character. Carlisle leeches out what he can from the carnival circuit and makes those skills translate to a more lucrative prospect. Intriguing turns and plot machinations ensue.
Del Toro is an absolute genius in creating an atmosphere. He does wonders in creating the world of Nightmare Alley. There’s the wonderful look of the film that transports the audience back to the 1940’s. The carnival and all of its details are vivid and at times grotesque. As the film moves away from the carnival, things get more opulent and dazzling. It’s all just eye candy from the cinematography, set design and costumes. It’s a winner on that level.
While the plot takes about an hour to get going, it is not until about two-thirds into the movie that the importance of the first half becomes abundantly clear. Pay attention to that first hour. Do not sleep on what Del Toro is doing. Do not get distracted by all of the pretty things. It is deliberately paced (slow), but incredibly important to the amazing pay off of this film.
Bradley Cooper anchors Nightmare Alley with a great and uncharacteristic performance. He’s both charming and smarmy. Then, Cate Blanchett comes in mid-way through. She’s a delightful change of pace for the film. Her absolute scenery-chewing femme fatale plays perfectly in the noir style. And, talk about glamorous. There are some other really good small parts throughout including Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe and Toni Collette. It’s an entertaining cast that helps to heighten the fun and creep-factor of this film.
Ultimately, Nightmare Alley sneaks up on you. This movie requires patience and your undivided attention. It is gorgeous to look at and well-structured. Even though it is slow in the beginning, the payoff is absolutely worth it. Please go see this movie and grab a big box of popcorn. Step right up to be fooled by Guillermo del Toro’s stylish and intriguing, Nightmare Alley.