Nightmare Alley (2021)

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Written by Guillermo Del Toro and Kim Morgan

Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collett, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenbergen, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany, Peter MacNeil.

In 1939, a mysterious drifter, Stanton Carlise (Cooper), finds his way to a carnival, and begins working for them under the leadership of Clem (Dafoe). Over time, he builds up knowledge of tricks, from those around him – and soon forms a romance with one of the ‘carnies’ Molly (Mara). They run off together, and years later he has built up a reputation as being a mentalist. A psychologist Dr Lilith Rutter (Blanchett) believes him to be a fraud, she works with him against the super rich, feeding him their secrets in order for him to do readings for them, and split the profits.

Visually stunning, with a neo-noir type look about it, and almost perfectly incapsulates the look and feel of this point in history. Starts off well with Cooper as an almost mysterious mute – not uttering a for the first ten minutes, despite being on screen for practically every second. The rest of the film is somewhat jumbled, and a bit of a mess.

Some of the supporting cast who are introduced in this time feel bombarded onto the screen, with little warning. They are then completely underused, as the narrative jumps to a love story between Stanton and Molly. It is almost as if big names were put in front of us just for the audience to go “wow they got (blank) to appear”.

At the midpoint of the film, the narrative plot jumps again – with a plot convenient time jump and introducing Blanchett’s Dr Rutter – and the whole tonal shift feels jarring as Stanton almost becomes antagonistic in his actions. Yet again we are given more supporting characters, who also feel underused.

By the end of the 150 runtime, there is little empathy left for the ‘antihero’.

With too many narrative shifts, and too many characters to really keep track of, and no real character to connect with, this was a let-down in plot, Saved only from a lower score by the wonderful direction from Del Toro, and beautiful set designs.



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