30 January 2022 655 Views

Nightmare Alley. It is a NIGHTMARE to watch. Sorry!

by James Murphy

I know. Critical plaudits have been many for this movie.

I, however, HATED NIGHTMARE ALLEY

Here’s why:

  • Imagine Postman Always Rings Twice. Just without any sex stuff.
  • Think INDIANA JONES, but devoid of action /adventure/joy.
  • Picture TIM BURTON films, except the pace and fun is gone.
  • And there, dear reader, lies NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

IE: Yes, the movie is not without its merits. Visually it is a treat. Guillermo del Toro delivers on that score, always! The sound design is outstanding, innovative and Oscar worthy. I have never heard train noises captured so perfectly. One cannot doubt the atmospheric and aesthetic, sensual accomplishments on show. The problem is that none of it adds up, to anything very much.

What is the point or purpose here? Which genre is being mined? Its moral is clear enough, for sure. Do not wish for something you might get. And if one dabbles in crime, however victimless or innocuous at first, expect brutal consequences.

We take a depression /WW2 era grifter and conman from circus hand to faux psychic to the rich and famous and simply wait for things to go wrong and dark.

Got it! Great. But still something is missing.

The whole thing spends far too long in the circus preface. Half the movie, in fact. And that could and indeed should, have been edited. Each and every actor gives their all. Once again though: WHYYYY? Are they truly challenged, here: no. Well, with a few exceptions who prove the rule (see below, as we go and guess which I am citing for both camps).

Cate Blanchett is not in this half as much as is advertised. I ought sue the makers under trade descriptions. She is very sexy and looks increasingly like a work of art, made real/reel. Three dimensional sexuality, in tandem with her recent turn in DON’T LOOK UP. I love this woman.

Bradley Cooper tries hard. Bless him. He’s clearly just delighted to be there at all. I like and admire his work ethic, always have. But there is just something, I dunno, not quite put together right? As though the man is still trying to decide what he wants to ‘be’ on film. Leading man? Action guy? Character actor? NIGHTMARE ALLEY alas shows each of his strengths but also, a kind of illogical fusion in the whole. He still has much to learn, albeit in part, because he thinks so much about his craft. Bradley: just relax and let it be!

Willem Dafoe turns up and is fine but frankly, could now do this kind of thing in his sleep. By contrast, Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins steal their few scenes and indeed, the film. 

This is an adaptation of a book and a quasi remake of a previous film. But WHY DO IT? Ultimately, one gets a thriller which does not thrill (with one key moment or two, toward the end, once again being an exception to prove the..etc). It is a semi-horror which never truly horrifies or manages to convince one either of rational resolution or supernatural subtext.

Multiple movies, fused together. Perhaps suited better to a Netflix/Amazon format? Tragic when one considers that better movies nowadays fail to get a cinema release at all.

It is a fascinating curiosity. But slow, dull, meandering and more derivative than truly original: copying all the wrong bits from better films, past and never quite knowing its own place. Needless to say? I cannot recommend NIGHTMARE ALLEY. C+ 

PS: LOVE love LOVE the restoration of the word ‘geek’ to negative connotation. After years of it being weaponised by a now rather nasty (imho) subculture!



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