“Nightmare Alley” Review

-Allison McCulloch

I was born for it.

-Stan Carlisle

Smoking is glamorized here, but there’s nothing glamorous about something that represents death. Really the whole movie signals impending doom and destruction. I like noir! I really do. But this throwback really doesn’t do much more than tell us what a cruel world we live in. I don’t even like Cate Blanchett’s Dr. Lillian Ritter. Blanchett is an amazing actress. But despite director Guillermo Del Toro’s co-writer and partner-in-crime Kim Morgan being a woman, it feels like Ritter’s character is designed to be asking for trouble. Instead of a cool, calculating femme fatale, Ritter is always antagonizing our main character, Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), and for what purpose? Maybe it stems from the misogyny in the William Lindsay Gresham novel that this was based on. Maybe I prefer James Ellroy novels.

Rooney Mara’s Molly is the only person with some sort of moral compass. While she’s perhaps too old to be the young, innocent circus girl, it would have looked silly for Cooper’s character to be with anyone who was much younger.

And in some cases, the characters’ depravity works for the story. Willem Dafoe’s Clem Hoately keeps someone locked in a cage, asking the question is he man or beast? The film’s poster also asks the question, but most animal rights people are against even animals being in cages (and zoos and circuses for that matter).

However, Stan Carlisle seemed to cause destruction to everyone who was in his path. Not only was it tiresome, but it was disturbing (and not in a compelling way).

Toni Collette’s character was interesting, but her hair was too similar to Cate Blanchett’s and it was uncomfortable when she towered over Carlisle when he was taking a bath.

Ultimately, my favorite performance came from Richard Jenkins. He played Ezra Grindle, a man who regrets driving his sweetheart to her untimely death. Now with all the money in the world, he wants the one thing he can’t have: his beloved Dorrie back. This is a reminder that it’s so easy for men to gain a conscience after they’ve destroyed what they proclaim to love most in the world. Despite the fact that I was revolted by Grindle’s behavior and actions, Jenkins still gave this character a brain and he reacted when Carlisle tried to scam him. I demand an Oscar for Richard Jenkins now! With two Oscar nominations thus far, an actual win is long overdue.

I was struck by the beautiful cinematography (I probably won’t see a film this year that’s shot better than this!). I also found the initial circus sets to be very fake. It however does feature the best funhouse since Us or The Lady from Shanghai.

The wrapping up of the story felt like too much. By then, I really didn’t care anymore. The film could have benefitted from a lot of other cuts as well. In the beginning part of the second act. It got pretty tedious.

In closing, it’s worth it to see the film for the acting and cinematography. Everything else is simply a distraction.

Rating: 6/10

Vegan points:
Pete (David Strathairn) pets a rabbit.

Vegan alert:
-Man bites chicken’s neck with blood oozing out
-Carlisle eats sausages and eggs and sometimes steak and eggs
-Pickled pigs and fetuses
-Ivory handle on gun
-Chickens and (already discussed) man in cage

Article was written by Allison McCulloch. Follow her Twitter.

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