Movie #25 2022: Nightmare Alley (2021)

With a director like Guillermo del Toro and an ensemble of such a high calibre attached to a film, you’d think that Nightmare Alley would be a runaway hit. Whilst critics have produced mostly positive reviews of this book adaptation, the audience consensus has been much more mixed. Though there are elements to be praised here, I seem to side more with the mixed camp. It seems that critics have seen this movie through rose-tinted glasses to an extent, and the mood seems to be slightly biased in favour of del Toro’s legacy as a director, rather than the quality of the film itself.

Nightmare Alley was previously made into a film noir in 1947, so this one is technically a remake. From my understanding however, the plot is almost exactly the same. It features the rise and fall of conman Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who joins a travelling carnival and almost inadvertently attempts to make a fortune. Along the way, he meets his future wife, but things begin to become ever more dangerous when he meets an alluring female psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett), who may just be even more manipulative than he is.

Let’s talk about the Academy Awards briefly to begin… Best Picture? Really? Sure, it’s the best picture to watch if you have trouble sleeping. 

I’m not saying it’s all bad, of course. The production design is outstanding, the scenery and the lighting are brilliant, and some of the shots are beautifully and interestingly framed and composed. For those things, it’s a strong four stars… but the rest of it? I’m surprised this is averaging 3.5 on Letterboxd to be honest. 

Guillermo del Toro’s directing is good here; I’m not going to slander that at all. But what I will slate is this shit show of a screenplay. Though tension heightens in the second act with the arrival of Blanchett, both the first and third acts are best described as good-looking tedium. At least the Academy got one thing right when they didn’t nominate it for any writing gongs, I suppose. The first act in particular – which should have been wholly entertaining due to it being set at in a circus-like environment – was nothing short of a snoozefest. There’s nothing new here; even the plot twists are half baked. Although there are one or two points in which something at least semi-interesting happens, I’m convinced they’re only interesting because the rest was so dull, so it was more that they were representing a glimmer of hope that ultimately led to nothing. 

Now, the cast. I have nothing against Bradley Cooper – I love A Star Is Born and he’s a decent actor – but I’m not sure that he can lead a movie solo like this. With all due respect, he’s just not that interesting to watch and I’m also not entirely sure that he’s as magnetic as everyone wants him to be here. Cate Blanchett is wonderful because she always is, but having Rooney Mara be the counterpart to Cooper’s character? It’s simply so bland and vanilla when it should be dark and sinister. It’s just all a bit ‘meh’, for want of a better word.

I’m sure there are some fans of film noir out there who absolutely loved this. I’m not one of them. It’s too long, too convoluted, and ultimately forgettable. At least it looks nice?

Nightmare Alley is still screening in some UK cinemas but there is no word as of yet about when it’ll be available to stream.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½

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