In a world full of carnies and criminals, can Bradley Cooper rise to the top in Guillermo del Toro’s new rollercoaster ride of a neo-noir crime thriller?
Brimming with director Guillermo del Toro’s signature style, with a full world full of gripping performances, phenomenal set design and characters that are always willing to take advantage of any situation that they can, Nightmare Alley is a wild ride.
Nightmare Alley is the story of Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a man with a mysterious past who gets a job working for dastardly carny Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe). Carlisle learns all the tricks of the carny trade from Hoatley, Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette), and her husband Pete (David Strathairn), before leaving to become a mentalist with Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) as his assistant. On this rise to the top Carlisle meets psychiatrist named Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who turns out to be just as dangerous as he is.
Even from the trailer, it is clear to see the beautiful sets that were created throughout the movie. Whether it be the early carnival settings or the more art deco city sets, every scene feels part of a bigger, colder world, where dodgy dealings are the norm, and every person is a stepping stone. This set design lends seamlessly to the cinematography, which is in most cases outstanding, and a welcome addition to the YouTubers that make edits of top-class shots.
While you may think to yourself what a wonderful world, what of the people that fill it? Well, the performances from all of the main cast are really some of their best. Bradley Cooper’s name is already being thrown around in the Oscar conversation for his supporting role in Licorice Pizza, but a leading nomination might go his way. Cate Blanchett could also be in the running, while Richard Jenkins gave the performance of his career in a supporting role which is not to be shunned. Willem Dafoe is as scary and menacing as usual, putting the fear of god into any character he encounters.
Where the movie falls is unfortunately due to its own success. The first third of the movie takes place in the ever crazy carnival that has such a unique atmosphere and host of characters, only for the story to take a turn and completely turn away from that early carny world for most of the rest of the movie. There is then a lull where the story must begin again in a different place and time. This lull causes the momentum of the early movie to be lost, and never to be reached again until the last third of the movie.
At first, though Nightmare Alley appeared to be joining the ever-growing list of recent movies that could end after an hour, but this time the movie appears to be more of two movies in one, with that first third in the carnival being a Part 1 so to speak, and from then on being a Part 2. This distinction allows the movie as a whole to be seen as a collection of stories rather than a single narrative.
Overall, Nightmare Alley is definitely something unique, which is to be expected from Guillermo del Toro, but with a strong world and great characters, that alas fall victim to a slow burn in the middle. It will mess with your head a bit, as it did mine, and some scenes might need to be watched through your fingers, but a solid flick all the same.
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy)
Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pacific Rim)
Kim Morgan (The Forbidden Room)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born, Limitless)
Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, Don’t Look Up)
Toni Collette (Hereditary, Little Miss Sunshine)
Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Lighthouse)
Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers, The Shape of Water)
Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network)
Running Time: 2h 30m
Genre: Crime Drama Thriller