“Nightmare Alley” (2021)

FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: “Nightmare Alley” stars Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Guardians of the Galaxy), Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok, Blue Jasmine), Rooney Mara (The Social Network, A Ghost Story), Toni Collette (Hereditary, Little Miss Sunshine), Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), Ron Perlman (Hellboy [2004], Hand of God [TV series]), David Strathairn (Lincoln, Godzilla [2014]), Peter MacNeill (Open Range, A History of Violence), Mary Steenburgen (Last Vegas, Back to the Future Part III), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water, Step Brothers), Holt McCallany (Fight Club, Mindhunter [TV series]), Jim Beaver (Breaking Bad [TV series], Deadwood [TV series]), and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Incredible Hulk). It is directed by Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pacific Rim), who also wrote the screenplay with Kim Morgan (The Forbidden Room, Seances [Short]).

A drifter with a dark past finds refuge in a traveling carnival, where he grows into a talent that will surely cause grave consequence.

Guillermo del Toro is back and ready to mystify the audience once more with his remake of “Nightmare Alley.” Did I know what this was? Nope. In a rather slow box office, I thought it’d be cool to try out a flick no one is really talking about. Which is surprising, given del Toro’s stature in the industry.

What can I say besides it’s a well-made film? From the cinematography to the performances to the mystery of the narrative, this movie is a polished one. It made me uneasy, while all the more intrigued as the story unfolded. We all know del Toro’s love for the dark and twisted; “Nightmare Alley” showcases just that.

Quite honestly, there couldn’t have been a better cast for this feature. Bradley Cooper has proven himself to be one of the most versatile creatives out there in the industry, and he gives such a great performance in this. The stars that carve out the supporting cast are also home runs, with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Ron Perlman, and Richard Jenkins being stand-outs. They chewed the scenery up, and made for a more compelling tale. (Going back to Dafoe for a brief moment, I just want to point out that he proves time and time again how astounding he is. Any movie is better with him in it). I loved their chemistry, especially the scenes shared between Cooper and Blanchett. Truly talented, they are.

The cinematography and writing coupled in this make for an experience that you’d find in older cinema. “Nightmare Alley” plays like a 40’s feature, right down to the wardrobe. That’s probably because it’s a remake of a film from 1947, but I digress. I enjoyed the way this was shot, with my favorite image being of Cooper walking away from a burning house in the middle of a tall grass field (chef’s kiss). It digs into the 40’s drama feel, while also channeling the del Toro style that is akin to Tim Burton. Slap on Nathan Johnson’s awesome film score, and you’ve got a well-rounded experience.

For someone who went into the movie cold, I will say that the story is quite peculiar. There’s not really a clear arc of the film until the reveal in the third act, which can be either fun or aimless. I won’t side with the latter notion, because as I distance myself from the night I viewed this, the more I grow to like it. Overall, “Nightmare Alley” is a character piece on a man who reaps what he sows. There’s elements of this plot that are engaging and wonderful, while others merely entertain (if that). It certainly plays like an older talkie flick, where the story simply goes on and we uncover what everything was all about by the end. And what’s to be found in the end? I won’t say (in case you want to see it), but it’s more of a “oh that’s cool” finale than a “now everything makes sense” one.

I didn’t walk away from “Nightmare Alley” in amazement. Rather, I was silent. It doesn’t hold much rewatchability value, but it certainly gives you a show for your buck. And as I’ve said, as the days go by and I look back on it, I respect/love it all the more. The character arc of this piece is a bitter, saddening one, altogether made poignant by the visual storytelling and terrific acting. It definitely dazzles, though it’s not the most memorable. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy it, and if it’s at your theater, give it a try (because let’s face it… these smaller pictures need attention). FINAL SCORE: 87%= Juicy Popcorn

Here is the trailer:

2 responses to ““Nightmare Alley” (2021)

  1. Been watching the site just waiting for this review man. I completely agree with you on everything, a thoroughly enjoyable movie that’s a bit aimless in the beginning. It all wraps up greatly though with a solid cast.

    Another thing I really want to highlight is Del Toro’s and the original writer of the story’s usage of themes and metaphors. While the character being named Lilith is a little on the nose, I enjoy the reference and it’s neat foreshadowing. Enoch though, another Biblical reference, is a bit more obscure but also relevant to the movie. Props to Del Toro and the motif of circles/wheels, which subtly reference the ending of the movie and the main message from it

    Solid picture, good review Harrison.

  2. Pingback: January Movie Rankings | Juicy Reviews·

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