Nightmare Alley follows Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) who joins a carnival when he is in need of work. He learns how to become a mentalist, someone who is believed to be “psychic”, and leaves the carnie life behind with his girlfriend in order to con the wealthy.
This film is directed by Guillermo del Toro, but is the least like his other films that I have seen thus far. You can tell that del Toro is trying something different as Nightmare Alley is actually more of a noir film than anything, but some of his usual trademarks are still there.
I honestly had a great time with Nightmare Alley. The film has a star-studded cast with Bradley Cooper in the main role, and Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe and more familiar faces in supporting roles. They all gave good performances, but it was Cooper, Blanchett, and Dafoe that were the most memorable.
Like most del Toro films there is a love story at play here. The love story is not at the forefront of this tale, but I would actually say it is the weakest part here. This is mainly because Rooney Mara’s character, Molly, is not as developed as I’d like her to be. I can see why Molly and Stanton would take to each other, but once they leave the carnival together I do not see why they would stay together as it is clear they are unhappy with each other.
The first half of the film that takes place in the carnival is the more interesting as the atmosphere is eerier and all the behind-the-scenes secrets are exposed. The production design of the carnival itself was extraordinary, with the funhouse being especially jaw-dropping. We as the audience also get to relate to Stanton a bit more as we are also new to this environment and are learning the ins and outs of putting an act together.
This film feels a bit long and the second half does drag a bit. This is the part where the carnival aspect is left behind as Stanton and Molly con wealthy people and Cate Blanchett’s character enters. I didn’t dislike the second half of the film at all, but I think the shift could have been handled more smoothly and some scenes could have been shortened or cut. I really enjoyed the dynamic Cooper and Blanchett had together, but I did miss the ensemble of the first half.
Despite the minor grips I have with the pacing, I thought this was a very well-made film and I appreciate del Toro trying his hand at something different. I think he did a great job. This may not be his most memorable feature, but he hit all the right notes. I thought the performances and the story were captivating. The ending of this film is also excellent. I saw where it was going, but that did not make it any less chilling.
I give Nightmare Alley a B+