Nightmare Alley was recently released to streaming (Hulu) which will expand its audience just in time for awards season. Nightmare Alley is considered a dark horse and not part of my personal predictions for Best Picture but because of the Academy love and recent win for its creator, Guillermo Del Toro (who won Best Picture and Best Director for his last film, Shape of Water).
Full disclosure: this film was not made for me. It was extremely dark. But I will be giving it a fair objective shake when asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Oscar Watch, Nightmare Alley
Overall rating: Very Good
Nightmare Alley shakes viewers to their core. It is not a thriller exactly but it feels like one. It is deeply psychological and quite visceral but only particularly gorey maybe once in the entire film. The story is formatted as a classic noir and set first in a depression era carnival then a depression era luxury hotel. The word “creep” is the best word to describe how the film envelopes viewers, somehow deeply effecticing them even with an extremely predictable plot line (intentionally).
Following an ambitious and mysterious man who joins a carnival for work and develops his own act in an effort to have a better life doing shows for the wealthy, the story explores the predictability of man in the absolute worst light with almost no forgiveness or redemption. It is a hard road. The quality of work presented by Del Toro and his cast make it clear why the film is flirting with a Best Picture nomination, however, some of its noir elements make for some cheesy and predictable tropes. Additionally, it is simply too long and covers far too much ground making it all together a little extra. Which makes sense for the noir genre but not really for a Best Picture.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Chilling and eventful
There is nothing fun about Nightmare Alley but viewers will not be able to stop watching. Even as the plot clearly lays itself out with very obvious foreshadowing the viewer still watches every blow and every choice cringing and flinching the whole way. Even knowing the leading man, Stanton Carlisle played by Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbook) is going to do, viewers find themselves deeply invested in why and if he really is going to make all the choices he makes.
It’s very physical. It’s very gritty and it leaves audiences feeling cold and uncomfortable in their own skin. It is the kind of film that stays with you.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Very Good
Guillermo Del Toro is nothing if not a man of vision. Favoring jewel tones and amber washes, Del Toro is known for beautiful film making and Nightmare Alley is no exception. Viewers are treated to traditional carny aesthetic and beautiful late-era art deco covered in green velvet and gold ambition. Stunning to look at and framed to perfection.
The material is dense, written by Del Toro himself based on a novel by Lindsay Gresham. It does not hold back on its accusations of mankind and its perception of desperation. The capability of doing harm to one another casually is something the script fully comprehended.
The acting was all stellar with a very seasoned cast of veterans including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, Carol), Toni Collette (Hereditary, In Her Shoes), William Dafoe (Spider Man, Platoon), Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Carol), and Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future Part III, Last Man on Earth) who all performed at top calibur.
The only mark on the film is its occasional dip from the cusp of camp into cheese. A few exchanges between particularly Blanchett’s character, Dr. Lilith Ritter and Cooper’s character Stanton Carlisle seemed pretty ridiculous. IT also had too much story wrapped into one making it extra long and a bit convoluted.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: No agenda
The only agenda in this movie seemed to be that psychiatry is bad. Nothing political.