Sunday, December 19, 2021

Nightmare Alley - Movie Review

The Movie: Nightmare Alley

The Director: Guillermo del Toro

The Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn

The Story: An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

The Review:
Guillermo del Toro will always be one of my favorite directors. Pan's Labyrinth is one of my all time favorite movies. Over 11 years, he had a run of amazing movies that included Blade II, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Pacific Rim, each of them with the director's dark, signature style and also unique in their own individual ways. One of the things that has always stood out is del Toro's ability to create frightening and magical creatures while telling fantastic stories that go beyond anything we could have ever imagined.

I love how this movie looks. It's beautiful and colorful and dark and it just looks so cinematic, if that makes sense. Every moment of the movie seems like all the time necessary was given to make it the best it could possibly be from a visual standpoint and you can tell that del Toro had a very specific vision for how he wanted everything to look. The cast for the movie also seemed meticulously curated to maximize every character from the headlining stars to the bit players and background roles.

Now, as for the story. Well, that's another story. For me, this was a tale of two halves. The first being a brilliantly woven tale of a man on the rise literally within the confines of a circus and an eclectic cast of characters all beautifully woven into a magical and mysterious fable. The second half devolves into a typically told tale of lust and greed and pettiness that gets less and less interesting as it meanders along and for far too long. Maybe I was hoping for something more mystical behind all the smoke and mirrors yet all there was was a charade and something much less than the director is typically capable of.

The cast is actually quite phenomenal, again most notably in the first half of the film, and is highlighted by Bradley Cooper who does some pretty amazing work with how his character transforms, multiple times, over the course of the movie. I don't want to say I was disappointed in Cate Blanchett's performance, that's not the right word, and yet I felt she wasn't quite right for the role although I have to say I will never not want her to be in any movie really. I always love Rooney Mara, if you haven't seen what she did in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo then you should remedy that immediately, and while she is just fine here, I feel she is also underutilized in the role she is given.

For me, I think this movie is the victim of expectations as it's much less of what I was hoping for from a director the caliber of Guillermo del Toro, I mean in a dark fairy tale magic type of way, even as it showed so much promise through the first act and then some. Ultimately, this movie was a parlor trick with flashy lights and bold colors all meant to distract the audience from something that becomes much darker and more commonly human I suppose is the best way to put it.

The Verdict:
Nightmare Alley left me dreaming of a different path and a more mystical journey the likes of which we are used to from Guillermo del Toro. A stellar cast couldn't save a subpar story that is slightly saved by how gloriously beautiful the whole thing looks on screen.

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