NIGHTMARE ALLEY (REVIEW)
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
Guillermo del Toro has always been a master of visuals and we have been so gracefully blessed that his passion has been with horror. While at heart, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, is a noir thriller, it nevertheless crosses the genre line on many occasions to bring a great darkness and flare to the unfolding drama.
CRIMSON PEAK is the grandeur of cinema and ever since the gothic masterpiece, del Toro has taken on the biggest sets, star studded casts and storytelling that feels closer to reading a well written book than that of popcorn cinema. NIGHTMARE ALLEY is no different.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Defoe, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Paul Anderson, Ron Perlman and Richard Jenkins to name the headline cast is a Hollywood walk of fame and one that was no surprise to be mentioned and honoured at the 2022 Oscars ceremony.
Here, Cooper gives a great monodrone (one downtrodden tone - yes I created that for this film) performance gifting us with a mysterious drifter who comes across a circus and joins in the act, meeting and becoming part of the family and putting him on a path of Icarus as he rises, and falls to his ultimate downfall.
At times intriguing, at others dull, the 180 minute run times feels like it and ironically there are moments that skip by so fast that it puts into question if there's a possible longer cut putting focus on more exciting character building. Instead were treated to one note characters and a relationship between Cooper and Blanchett that feels as cold and transactional throughout that any real chemistry from their interactions is never believable. The issue is more the lack of emotion shared throughout the film that extends to the audience and nothing feels as emotional as it should. Lovers leave, and return, fighters fight, and make up and while the film goes full circle, it just doesn't hit the longstanding emotional chords an ending like this deserves.
Every shot is made with precision, whether it's a long view of the circus in the background lighting up the night sky or Cooper replicating the "I'm fine" meme with fire surrounding him reclined in a chair, NIGHTMARE ALLEY is a director at his best. The films problem is that it's subject isn't actually that exciting and as such this feels like a character drama first, but one where the characters just mope about in the way only 30s alcoholic detectives tend to. Taking inspiration from Tod Browning's FREAKS and every carny since, this is worlds away from the glitz and glamour of THE GREATEST SHOWMAN with the head honcho being a scene stealing Willem Defoe who appears for less than a quarter of the film never to be seen again.
It's dull, miserable and long and while there's a punch with the payoff, it doesn't quite feel worth it for the investment and questions whether some of the subplots could have been removed to make it a little pacier. There's no denying how beautifully made this is and like THE SHAPE OF WATER, proves nobody makes a film as beautiful as del Toro however, much like THE SHAPE OF WATER, it feels a little hollow behind the glossy set design and camera work. This is less a trip down nightmare alley, and more a snooze down the stunningly lit mediocre lane.