If there’s one thing you can fault auteur filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, it’s his indulgence. The man is known for lavish setpieces and ephemeral shots and cinematography, but his penchant for handling talking heads can drag a bit.
This is definitely exemplified in his remake of the 1940s novel and film Nightmare Alley. There is really no fault in the casting here. Bradley Cooper plays an aspiring grifter and con artist named Stan, learning the tricks of the trade and rising to the top of society. Rooney Mara plays the moral compass love interest and circus act assistant Molly to try to get his act straight at times. Cate Blanchett steals the scene as the psychologist Lilith who ends up in the middle of it all during Stan’s time with fame and high society, as well as instigates Stan to pull off a bigger con.
The soundtrack also bears mentioning. The menacing score of Nathan Johnson is just as ominous as the storm clouds and rain in the film’s noir setting, which is just lavishing to absorb and behold thanks to Toro’s direction.
Freaks & Geeks
Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley’s ephemeral vision is the contrast to the film’s narrative and pacing. The more beautiful and alluring the film is, the more tedious and bloated the film shows itself to be. While the backdrops and literal alleys speak for themselves, the characters aren’t as fleshed-out as you would think, coming off as just enhanced tropes you’ve seen in thrillers and film noir made for the generation. The show really needed to be trimmed and tightened up from its 2 hours and 30-minute runtime, with the second act being the main culprit, though it does pay off at the very end.
Still, you can’t fault Guillermo del Toro for sticking to the trappings of the original 40s film. At the very least, Nightmare Alley is a lavish and meaty remake that could lose its many moments of self-indulgence. Still, a middle-tier film in Guillermo’s portfolio is still a better and memorable cinematic experience in general, at least for the start of 2022. Just prepare to steel yourself for a slow burn of a flick if you’re planning a trip to this alleyway.