A drifter becomes a renowned medium after picking up
the tricks of the trade during a stint in a traveling carnival.
Nightmare Alley (2021)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan
Starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara,
Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, David Strathairn,
Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, Holt McCallany
Remake of 1947's Nightmare Alley
Based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Cinematography,
Best Production Design, Best Costume Design
I'm a sucker for anything Guillermo del Toro puts his name on, but the films he directs are a different breed. Often a perfect blend of traditional influence and wild ingenuity, his movies stand out. Nightmare Alley was one I didn't get to last month, but I was finally able to track down a showing of it nearby. It ended up being a special "black and white" screening, which helped enhance the film's noir tone. However, it didn't really impress. The film has a serious pacing problem despite a gaggle of amazing performances led by Bradley Cooper, who is pulling off some of his best work.
Cooper plays Stanton Carlisle, a drifter who joins a traveling circus and learns the ins and outs of a carny's life. Particularly, he learns about mentalism and the art of reading people. After an all too brief stint among Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, David Strathairn, and Ron Perlman, Stanton takes his new love Molly (Mara) to the big city and becomes one of the most popular psychics in the game. He becomes so popular that wealthy people enlist his aid in speaking to their dead relatives, which proves to be a dangerous game when he hooks up with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Blanchett), who helps him get dirt on the rich while cooking up her own scheme. All this sounds great on paper, but getting from point A to point B seemed to take forever. Also, there were a number of plot points I was fairly unclear on. What was Dr. Ritter's motivation for the double cross, for instance?
Nightmare Alley is aesthetically pleasing and definitely has a del Toro tone that can't be duplicated. The performances are wonderful, the music is great, and there are certainly some epic moments. But overall, it's really quite boring, and that's hard to move past, especially considering the film is two and a half hours long.