NIGHTMARE ALLEY – Rated R – 2h 30m

This Review is brought to you by Kathy Kaiser

DIRECTOR:  Guillermo del Toro

WRITERS:  Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan – based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham

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

Based on the 1946 Novel by William Lindsay Gresham, and the subsequent 1947 film, starring Tyrone Powers & Joan Blondell, we enter into carnival world, as grifter Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) finds himself down and out, with no better options in sight, than to figure out how he fits into seedy little world.  When Stanton happens upon the beautiful clairvoyant Zeena (Tony Collette) and her not-as-sharp-as-he-used to-be mentalist hubby Pete (David Strathairn), he may just have found his way to make the most of a bad-situation, learning quickly how to deceive a very inept audience.  As Zeena takes a fancy to the new handsome man in their midst, her husband has other plans for Stanton, showing him how to fool the masses, with his unconventional mind games.  When Stanton happens upon carnival actor Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) he becomes entranced by her presence, and her vulnerability, although she already has a bodyguard in place, the mighty Bruno (Ron Perlman), who thinks that Stranton is nothing but bad news, and miss Molly should just stay away from him… 

As Stanton quickly outgrows the carnival life, he convinces Molly to run away with him, to forge a better life for them both on the road, far away from the creepers of the carnival.  Enter Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who is not only willing to question Stranton’s act, but to defy any logic he tries to convey to his audience in her presence too, making for a very treacherous and awkward turn of events, for the new mentalist.

And as Stanton tries to regain the ground he’s lost since Dr. Ritter came to town, he finds that she may have an ulterior motive behind that beautiful face of hers…as she too lives in a life of darkness and mystery that Stranton has tried to leave behind.  And as they manage to spend more than a few hours together, there are drawn to one another like a moth to a flame, and it seems that the common ground that they share, is a total aphrodisiac…

Feeling lonely and betrayed, Molly wants out of her shame of a marriage, but Stranton sadly convinces her that that will have to wait, as Stanton and Dr. Ritter find themselves working overtime on one of her patients, the filthy-rich Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), who has been pinning for years over his one-true love and Stanton has convinced him that he can channel her into this world, so that he can see her one last time…

But as this sinister plot thickens, and Stanton and Molly’s world is shattered beyond repair, it seems that maybe living in the carnival world, is all that Stanton’s life is really worthy of any way…

Willem Dafoe and Bradley Cooper in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Rooney Mara in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Bradley Cooper and Toni Collette in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Richard Jenkins and Bradley Cooper in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

I give NIGHTMARE ALLEY a rating of 3/5:  Leave it to Guillermo del Toro to bring this creepy tale back from the depths of 1940’s American noir cinema, with dreamy Bradley Cooper as the lead, playing a man that has a whole lot of deep-rooted issues.  And even though I am always mesmerized by Bradley’s baby blues, his performance this time around as the grifter that tries desperately to keep all his secrets in the past, is right on the cusp of being award worthy.  You totally believe the chemistry that ensues between him, and his new wife Molly, played superbly my Mara Rooney.  And then, in the blink of any eye, you’ll find that you are just as excited to venture into the nasty-little-affair that erupts on screen between Cooper and the craftily wicked Dr. Ritter, played by the beautiful and also super-talented Cate Blanchett.  Her performance though good, just lacks the intensity she may have wanted to convey, if she was hoping to get a nod or two come this awards season.  The cinematography throughout seems almost flawless, as you totally get the dark and sinister plot that’s about to unfold just from its imagery, but the storyline itself feels a little disjointed in more than one place for me, thus taking away from this films intensity.  And as good as the acting throughout is, even with the small roles that were inhabited by Ron Perlman, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, and Richard Jenkins, it still feels like there are parts of different avenues of the storylines within this film, that needed a lot more depth for true understanding.  But, I shouldn’t be surprised as del Toro has done the same thing to me before, as I was one of very few Critics that wasn’t singing his almighty praises back in 2017, when his 4-time Academy Award winning film, The Shape of Water hit the screen, and it too had fabulous, and darkness throughout almost every frame, but the storyline itself, though creative, left me feeling like I had just waisted 2 hours of my life, that I was never getting back.  Nightmare Alley was definitely sooooooo much better than Shape of Water for me to consume, I mean, come on, it has Bradley…it just doesn’t manage to hit the mark of excellence, that I was hoping to see…


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