Review: Nightmare Alley

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A steady hypnotic thriller that keeps you engrossed until the very last scene, Nightmare Alley is a film noir slow burn that is cinematically beautiful and acted with precision.

Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joins a traveling carnival where he picks up some tricks from Zeena (Toni Collette) and Pete (David Strathairn) that he then utilizes to go out on his own and engage in a dangerous con with the assistance of a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett). Guillermo del Toro’s latest is the tale of two movies, a first half that introduces unique characters and a sketchy setting upon which Cooper’s character learns all that he needs to in order to set off on the second half of the film’s journey. The entire plot is a psychological mind bend that pays off with patience, a detailed dissection of the main character with lively performances along the way. Though Cooper is brilliant and the likes of Blanchett, Collette, Strathairn, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, Willem Dafoe, and Richard Jenkins are all superb, Nightmare Alley fumbles Rooney Mara’s character a bit, not giving the talented actress much to work with.

This is arguably del Toro’s best film in quite some time, a captivating encapsulation of a period of time brought to life through every frame. The script is seductive in its mystery, advanced largely by Blanchett’s character and questions about where it is all going. Once the bubble bursts, however, it is hard not to be impressed. Nightmare Alley doesn’t play all of its cards until the final hand, something that I typically don’t enjoy, but here it works. Come for one of the best performances by Bradley Cooper in his career and stay for the payoff… it’s well worth the price of admission, to a theater or a carnival, for that matter.

Nightmare Alley is now playing in theaters.

Rating: 4/5

Photo from Searchlight Pictures

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