Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, David Strathairn, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Perlman, Jim Beaver, Tim Blake Nelson, Holt McCallany, and Clifton Collins Jr.
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Where I Watched It: Hulu
English Audio Description Available: Hulu hates blind people, so no. Of course, I’m sure it exists, it’s just hulu can never be bothered to acquire audio description.
The Plot: A charming con artist )Cooper) learns how to manipulate people through learning from carnies, and believes he’s landed the ultimate con, with the help of a psychologist (Blanchett) who may be far more than he bargained for.
What Works: It’s Guillermo Del Toro, so it’s always some kind of love letter or passion project, and you can always feel that in anything he directs. Everything is so purposeful, and the runtime never matters. Every scene feels necessary, and the story always has appropriate twists and turns, and rises and falls. He does let you breathe, and really sit in the atmosphere he’s created more than a lot of other directors do. For him, it’s really always about the whole experience, not just showcasing one actor, or a cheap plot trick surprise. He’s a complete package storyteller, and it always pays off.
Here, he has attracted his most talented cast so far, with the majority of the main characters being Oscar nominees or winners. This stacked cast make the most out of sometimes very limited screen time. Bradley Cooper carries this film, and it is just another terrific unsung performance from him. In the supporting cast, it’s hard to pick one standout, because each actor or actress is so tremendous, they each offer a terrific and impactful moment.
I loved Richard Jenkins, though I always have. Cate Blanchett starts out unsuspecting but flips her role like a masterclass. David Straitharin does excellent work as a “past his prime” mentalist that mentors Cooper early on. Even Mary Steenburgen, who is in the film for what seems like a blip, does terrific work. How this film didn’t get a SAG ensemble nomination is beyond me.
I know this film has largely been shoved aside this Oscar season. For whatever reason, it opened against Spider-Man, and it got crushed. It might not be a flashy film, but this is the kind of film that doesn’t get nominations, but still somehow has a following 20 years from now. Del Toro has his fans, and they will keep this film alive. It deserves so much more attention than it has gotten.
What Doesn’t Work: I’d just be nitpicking. Honestly, what would I change?Maybe, I’d say that there are just some general vibe things happening that could make this movie an easier sell, but I’m not really sure they need changing.
For example, this really is a Bradley Cooper starrer, with a deep ensemble. But when you see the caliber of the ensemble, you might go into it assuming it is more balanced, but Cooper carries the film. He’s in almost every scene, and some of the other actors are only in a handful, maybe only a few minutes total of actual screen time. Cate Blanchett is being billed basically as the 2nd largest part, and she’s in maybe 10-15 minutes of actual screen time? I think marketing is half the reason this film didn’t hit with audiences, and I’m not sure they knew how to market it.
But that has nothing to do with whether the film is good, but rather whether it could have been more…successful? Maybe more of a front runner this year? I don’t know. One of the things that I love about the movie is that it doesn’t feel so obviously Del Toro, relishing so heavily in the macabre, and instead just dancing near it, and attempting more of a character study, with just a dash of typical Del Toro, and a hint of film noir. I love that he’s stretching himself as a director, but perhaps, others aren’t. It doesn’t have a super high rotten tomatoes or metacritic score. But, I think this will end up in my top 10.
The Blind Perspective: Hulu rarely provides audio description for shows that aren’t Hulu originals or from ABC. So of course, they dropped Nightmare Alley without it. I probably would have enjoyed the descriptions of what was happening visually, but wouldn’t we all? As someone who used to be able to see, Del Toro is a very visual director, and it sucks to not be able to be fully immersed in his experience. To be honest, even with solid audio description, my heart would still hurt a bit. Terrific movie though, and I was able to follow the story and the characters.
Final Thoughts: I’m glad i finally got to experience this. I’m a big Del Toro fan, and this didn’t disappoint. I wish this was more in the Oscar race this year. I think Cooper deserves a nod, as well as Del Toro for director, and the film for Best Picture. Will it even get one nomination? Maybe. But I’m not hopeful.
Final Grade: A