Nightmare Alley Review

Every time a new Guillermo Del Toro film is announced it instantly becomes a highly anticipated film for me and this was no exception. I hadn’t read the book or seen the original version of Nightmare Alley, but the involvement of Del Toro was enough to convince me to watch it.

The film follows Stanton Carlisle who takes a job at a carnival in 1939. After working with the clairvoyant act at the carnival, Stanton soon starts to pick up their tricks and sets out on his own, taking his lover Molly with him, soon creating a successful mentalist act in Buffalo. However, Stanton soon comes into contact with psychologist Lillian Ritter, who gets Stanton involved in a scheme to con the wealthy, in particular Ezra Grindle, although the results end more violently than anticipated. What works well in the film is the atmosphere that is created throughout the film. As a throwback to the classic noir films this is a treat. All of the necessary elements are in there to make this a compelling watch and there are good themes at play over manipulation, how memories can be utilised in the pursuit of a con and the danger that false hope can provide.

If there is an issue I had with the film it’s the pacing. The first half has a bit of a slower pace which does a great job at building up the characters, but it does mean that the second half goes by a bit too fast. In particular some of the character beats involving Ritter felt a bit rushed to me. I think the film could have done with being about 10 minutes longer so that more elements involving Ritter could be fleshed out, but that issue wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of the film.

The performances on the whole are excellent. Bradley Cooper as Stanton has the right level of charisma for a con artist, having this charming public air about him, whilst also showing the darkness that he wants to hide. Whenever Cooper is on screen you can feel his mind working to keep up the charade of his life and the darkness that Cooper brings to the role helps make the ending of the film land so well. Cate Blanchett as Ritter has the perfect vibe for a classic femme fatale in noir. Everything about Blanchett’s performance oozes style and control and adds to the strong noir vibes of the film. Rooney Mara and Toni Collette do strong work in their roles, working well off of Cooper, whilst Richard Jenkins gives a strong, intimidating performance throughout. Willem Dafoe gives the perfect vibe for a classic carnival ringmaster, having a sinister air about him that makes his actions in the film, particularly with the carnival geeks, work as horror moments. David Strathairn gives a good performance showing how his alcoholism has damaged his life and Ron Perlman is strong, showing the paternal instincts he has well, having strong chemistry with Rooney Mara.

On a technical level the film is very impressive, as you’d expect from a Del Toro film. The production design and direction throughout the film is excellent, doing a great job at evoking the feel of the 1930s and 40s, with the costume design and makeup work also working wonders in this area. The design of the carnival in particular is dripping with atmosphere, the affection that Del Toro has for these vibes being present throughout, with some elements of the carnival, mainly involving the geek, allowing Del Toro to go more into horror. Everything about the design of the film has the right atmosphere to fit the noir vibes that Del Toro is going for and helps to make the film a visual treat.

Overall, I ended up enjoying Nightmare Alley a lot. As a throwback to the classic film noirs, mixed in with some strong horror elements, the film works wonders, with the direction and design of the film, along with the strong performances, creating a strong atmosphere for the film. Whilst I do think that the second half of the film feeling a bit rushed does prevent this from being up there with the best of Del Toro, this is still a really strong film.

My Rating: 4/5

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