Monday, December 20, 2021

Nightmare Alley

Adapting the 1946 novel of the same name, Nightmare Alley is more about con men than monsters (which is usually writer/director Guillermo del Toro's wheelhouse). The film is split into two halves, the first involving a man running from his past joining a carnival and learning secrets to start his own clairvoyance act. The second, takes place a couple of years later with Stanton (Bradley Cooper) and his wife (Rooney Mara) putting his skills to use in higher-class surroundings by taking advantage of more wealthy marks.

Think of Nightmare Alley as Guillermo del Toro's attempt at a David Mamet movie filled with con men and grifters, murderers and thieves, all out for their own interests, with plenty of twists and double-crosses thrown in for good measure. The result, more from the limitations of the source material than his direction, are a bit mixed.

The film can't quite capture the feel of film noir, falling short into a mix of drama and pulpish themes, only some of which are properly developed. And despite its style, especially during the second-half, it never consistently embraces the look or feel of classic film noir. Cate Blanchett, although entertaining, isn't quite able to sell her co-conspirator as a femme-fatale in a pivotal role on which the story hinges. And, speaking of the story, the film's ending is far too easy to guess, and so on-the-nose it can't help but disappoint.

Despite the film's problems, which include most of the female characters being underutilized as simple props for the continuation of the story, it does offer its share of style and an interesting journey into the unknown including the seedy underbelly of the carnival. However, the film loses something with it transports our characters for its second tale where the majority of the story unfolds. More creative editing may have helped to better reveal the story, and its secrets, as everything you need to know about Stanton is told in the first hour. There are certainly pieces that work as Stanton ignores the sage advice about never going too far with the act leading to new troubles for the grifter. Nightmare Alley delivers a solid film but it's sadly not as nightmarish as fans of the director may have been hoping.

Watch the trailer

No comments: