With its tonally limited palette and celebration of 1930s Art Deco juxtaposed with Depression-era poverty, Nightmare Alley is a visually sumptuous feast. Sadly, a strangely vacuous narrative with emotionally inert characterisation ensures that feast is pure artifice.
A miscast Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born, Joy) as Stanton Carlisle picks up work at a travelling carnival. Picking up the tricks of a clairvoyance act, he strikes out, heading off to New York with Molly (Rooney Mara – Carol, A Ghost Story), where success soon comes their way. Clashing with audience member Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett – Don’t Look Up, Carol) one night, Carlisle finds himself involved in a game of deadly fraud.
A comment on the human condition, director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) pays homage to a scheming neo-noir in his adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel. Typical of his work, it’s a dark hybrid of fantasy, horror, gothic and noir. Atypically, it’s hollow, a deadend misfire.
Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2022 including best film, production design & costume design.