An ambitious magsman with a talent for manipulating people forms a nefarious partnership with a female psychiatrist who may be even more manipulative than he is.
THE GOOD STUFF
VINTAGE BRADLEY COOPER- Stanton Carlisle, the main character of this film, brings me back to the period of time of what I like to call the “Vintage Bradley Cooper” days. That time between 2005 to 2009 where the majority of Cooper’s resume was of him playing various but INDEFINITE variances of douchebaggery. (MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, THE COMEBACKS, FAILURE TO LAUNCH, KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, WEDDING CRASHERS, and yes… THE HANGOVER as well). His natural charisma as a movie star is the only thing keeping this performance as this character from reaching ENTOURAGE-level THERMONUCLEAR douchebaggery.
I say all of this endearingly, of course. This is a very good performance from him. Is it anywhere near his top 10? Not so sure. There is Oscar buzz, but given how crowded the best actor Oscar field currently is, him being mentioned for this movie is unlikely.
PRODUCTION DESIGN- If there is a better-looking film on-screen released in the 2021, then I have not seen it. Guillermo del Toro films are usually showcases for production design, and this is no different. A story such as this really doesn’t merit the grandiose type of visuals that are regularly being displayed on the screen.
Every shot, costume, and visual effect is absolutely an A+ when it comes to NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
RICHARD JENKINS- for those of you who don’t know, Richard Jenkins has been one of the finest character actors in the game for at least 20 years now. He is, at this point, a consistent collaborator with Guillermo del Toro, having worked on his last film (THE SHAPE OF WATER, 2017) and meriting an Oscar nomination from that film.
He spent a lot of time playing very gentle, loving, characters. But in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, he is very against type, and he plays a menacing villain, to say the least. To be quite honest, at the point in which he’s introduced, he does make the movie more interesting than what it’s presenting itself to be.
THE BAD STUFF
LILITH RITTER- That is the name of Cate Blanchett’s character in this film. Mind you, it’s not making a complaint about the performance by Cate Blanchett since she has never been bad in anything ever.
I understand that practically every film noir of this type has a femme fatale. And I understand that many old-school film noirs use their femme fatales as plot devices rather than fully fleshed out characters with things like motives and objectives. I just didn’t think that would be the case here given who’s directing this film and who’s playing this character.
ABSENCE OF DISCERNMENT- Perhaps this is just a me thing, but in movies like this, I’m the type of person that needs the characters to do things that make logistical sense, at least SOME of the time. The performance of Bradley Cooper is a testament to the fact an actor can have a great performance playing a really dumb character.
His character does not make one singular logistically intelligent decision in the WHOLE film. Instead, he purposefully gets himself into WILDLY dangerous situations with ZERO justification as to why he’s doing what he’s doing. And that’s not what this character was presented as at the beginning of the film.
Oh, and speaking of that first act…
THE UGLY STUFF
DISHONEST ADVERTISING- I feel that I can say this without any sense of spoilery at all. And unlike many other reviewers, I’m gonna throw out a disclaimer.
There have been very few but very notable cases of trailers misadvertising films. And NIGHTMARE ALLEY is right along the most misadvertised of the bunch. Other trailers throughout history have egregiously misadvertised the genre of a film. Some trailers ignore the actual emotional weight of a film, some misadvertised who the star of the film really is, and in some cases, there are trailers that blatantly market to the wrong audience.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY does NOT misadvertise itself in those egregious ways. However, it is INDEFINITELY NOT the movie it sells itself to be in its advertisements, billboards, or trailer.
Consider this a fair warning.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY is yet another example of a movie this year (Like HOUSE OF GUCCI, or even DUNE) where the combination of a legendary director, and an INSANELY STACKED cast, results in something that is indeed good…but doesn’t live up to the astronomical expectations that can naturally exist due to the famous names involved.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY is playing in theatres now.