Nightmare Alley: Not Even Willem Dafoe Can Save This

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A man with a dark past, played by Bradley Cooper, joins a traveling circus and tries to make it big as a mentalist.

What happened here? Coming off Crimson Peak and The Shape Of Water two very strong del Toro films he makes this. That is not to say this film is bad just very average. I have seen this film being talked about under the notion of awards contention and frankly it couldn’t be further away from deserving that.

The film is self-indulgent to a tee and goes on for far, far too long. There are moments of promise throughout the film, but they are quickly undone by all the mediocrity that fills out the rest of the runtime. An example of which can be found with the final twist when Bradley Cooper’s character falls prey to a new circus master, played by Tim Blake Nelson, and becomes the new geek. Now some might say this ending for the character is profound but frankly I saw it coming from midway into the film.

The performances are equally a mixed bag. On the one hand you have strong turns from Willem Dafoe and Rooney Mara, but on the other you have an incredibly one note Cate Blanchett as a femme fatale and Bradley Cooper as a character that seems devoid of any kind of personality.

However, though this review has mainly focused on the negative, as I was disappointed with the film, that is not to say it is all bad. The film’s ending does manage to build a nice amount of tension and feel engaging, and some of the early carnival stuff features nice character work and moments that help the audience to power through just how long the first act goes on for.

Overall, not terrible but certainly a step back for del Toro.

Pros.
Dafoe

Mara

The third act tension

Cons.

Cooper

Blanchett

The pacing

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