Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley ★★★

Guillermo del Toro follows up his academy award winning The Shape of Water with a remake of a 1947 film which is, well, excruciatingly long.

Editor Cam McLauchlin clearly took a great many director's notes in this story of a developing con-artist, Stan Carlisle, who takes up with a bunch of carnies in the late '30s, honing his craft and making key relationships along the way. The first hour of the film is dedicated to these formative years, before there is a jarring cut to two years later where Stan is plying his trade in the city, wooing and wowing the rick folk out of their money. It is at this point he gets involved in a dangerous con against a powerful city figure with the aid of a femme so fatale her role may as well be tattooed across her forehead. From there, the film plays out in entirely predictable ways.

And in that synopsis, you have everything wrong with Nightmare Alley nicely laid out for you. Aside from taking far too long to set up its characters and the eventual con, there is nothing remotely surprising that takes place. It's like the script by del Toro and Kim Gordon from William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel was a means to an end: that end to put up a beautiful rendition of early WWII era America on screen.

Because that's where Nightmare Alley excels. It is gorgeous to look at with cinematographer Dan Laustsen's regularly moving camera capturing the dark beauty (and grimy underbelly) of the era amazingly well. The production design and costuming are also top notch, immersing the audience in this dark world superbly.

Performances are also good from an incredible cast, with Bradley Cooper playing the initially quietly brooding Stan very well, Rooney Mara providing good support as his increasingly moral accomplice in their act, and Cate Blanchett defying the ravages of time to be perfectly cast as the obvious fatale. Then there's a cavalcade of supporting actors who do no wrong, with perhaps only Toni Collette not getting enough to do in what initially seems like it will be a meaty role. The time jump in the movie also means a great many characters suddenly disappear from proceedings and never return, which is a bit disappointing.

Overall, there's much to commend about Nightmare Alley from a technical stand point. If only the script wasn't so paint-by-numbers and there had been some more judicious editing, it might have lived up to the expectations del Toro's name conveys.

3 Tricks of the Trade for Nightmare Alley.


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