Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, a remake of the 1947 film, is a deliciously staged if overly long drama-thriller about a carnie turned con man that is sure to appeal to a certain audience but not necessarily to the mainstream. An A-list cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, and Willem Dafoe is likely to make people think otherwise, to questionable satisfaction.
Cooper is terrific as the charming if slightly sociopathic Stanton Carlisle, whose desire for power and prominence slowly transforms him from performer to criminal. Ever with a grin and a glint in his eye, Cooper is simultaneously slimy yet likable, an appealing protagonist if there ever was one.
His charisma carries this beautiful-looking film, even if the rest of the cast play more as cameos than fully realized characters. At times Nightmare Alley feels more like a series of vignettes than a fully realized story, its core premise not nearly as fixating as it should be. Del Toro approaches the material so nonchalantly, so enthralled by this world of carnival workers and performers and two-faced individuals, that he loses sight of the story’s heartbeat. At two-and-a-half hours (40 minutes longer than the original), Del Toro appears to be pushing for something greater than the sum of its parts when a leaner, meaner approach was warranted.
Nightmare Alley boasts some ruthlessly shocking moments and several fine performances, but it’s hard to picture this alleged awards contender as anything more than a niche film for a niche audience.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.