Review by Camden Ferrell
Nightmare Alley is the newest movie from director Guillermo del Toro. His most recent film, The Shape of Water, received an Oscar for Best Picture and also earned del Toro an Oscar for Best Director. Even though his newest feature has some great ambiance, visuals, and a phenomenal leading performance, the story and execution drag too much to stand with his best works.
Stan is a man who joins a carnival and discovers a unique talent for reading and manipulating people. With his newfound gift, he meets new people and engages in new endeavors that are as perilous as they are alluring. This is based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name, and it’s an interesting premise that could seemingly work well with del Toro’s distinct style.
One of the first things that’s noticeable is the remarkable cinematography and composition. Dan Laustsen once again serves as director of photography for del Toro, and his work is as strong as ever. The film has a really profound use of lighting especially in its first half, and it creates an immersive atmosphere in which the story can unfold.
Another one of the most distinguishable aspects of the film is its star-studded cast. It stars the likes of Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, and Toni Collette. However, the true stand out is Bradley Cooper who leads the film as Stan. He is utterly phenomenal in this movie, and it may be one of the best performances of his career. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t do much to make their appearances memorable, and they pale in comparison to Cooper’s great work.
The film’s script is mostly decent, but it is still riddle with problems. Written by del Toro and Kim Morgan, the script does a great job of building up its world and introducing characters, but it doesn’t do well beyond that. Many characters feel underwritten and underdeveloped, and its plot doesn’t explore its premise to its fullest potential. There are also some plot points that don’t flow well together and throw off the overall rhythm of the entire film.
One of the biggest disappointments of the film is how del Toro’s execution is inconsistent and drags the film down. He’s usually a fantastic director which is why it’s surprising for this film to meander so much especially in its middle sections. While the first hour is great, the rest of the film lacks the creativity and imagination for which del Toro is renowned.
Nightmare Alley might be too indulgent for general audiences, but fans of del Toro and noir might find something to enjoy even though it may not live up to his standards. Despite some of its flaws, it’s a visually beautiful film that features an astonishingly great performance from Cooper.
Nightmare Alley is in theaters December 17.