Film Review: Nightmare Alley

By the time this post will be live, Nightmare Alley will have been nominated for Best Picture for 2022. Now, as a horror fan, it always excites me whenever I see a horror film on the Academy Awards ballot, so of course, I’m thrilled to see it there. At the same time, I don’t feel like this film was Del Toro’s best. This film was a remake of the 1947’s Nightmare Alley, in which Tyrone Power played the lead, but also was the one to insist for the film to be made in the first place. Having watched the original film, it’s very difficult to enjoy Bradley Cooper attempting to be the leading noir man when despite his best efforts at being a good actor, simply lacks the charisma of a true leading man (especially when you compare Power’s stage presence with his).

The film is adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. The plot is a fascinating one: a man down on hi luck joins a traveling carnival. The man in question is Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) and he quickly grows fascinated with wanting to learn the tricks to become a mentalist (mind reader). He believes he can outsmart the average man and in doing so can make money off of their stupidity and hope.

That is until he meets Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) a psychiatrist with wealthy clients. The two team up to try to schill money out of the wealthy, but Stanton makes the mistake of thinking that he’s more powerful and cunning than he actually is.

Of course, Del Toro excels in depicting the perfect noir film scenes and the pacing is excellent, and the cast’s saving graces are Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette. But with a movie that runs over two hours, it’s difficult to root for a leading man that we don’t care anything about (in the 1947 original we do feel sorry for Tyrone Power’s Stanton) in this remake, we can’t help but be happy for Bradley Cooper’s Stanton to get exactly what he deserved.

If you haven’t watched the original you may enjoy this version more than I did, or if at least you don’t expect much from your leading men other than being “easy on the eye,” as Toni Collette’s Zeena tells Stanton in the very beginning, then you may overlook this miscasting. Other than that, I recommend the film because the plot is interesting and has a very bold message: Can we truly outrun our real nature, or will we ultimately befall what we really are? I’d also say to read the book because it’s excellent.

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