Austin Burke’s review published on Letterboxd:
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2021 list - Click HERE
An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.
Guillermo del Toro is a Fantasy guru. He is always working his magic and delivering something different, and even if his project isn’t firing on all cylinders, I am usually engaged. That is very much the case here because Nightmare Alley never feels as cohesive as it needs to, but there are so many top-notch elements, and this makes it difficult to not be entertained. Starting with the visuals, it will go down as one of the top five cinematic experiences this year. It is built to be watched on the biggest screen possible, as every shot is full of movement and life. A standout here is the production design, as these set pieces are top tier. The first act, while slower, takes advantage of its carnival setting and makes every scene visually stunning.
The sound design is another component that works beautifully, and this score is easily top five of the year. The story itself takes awhile to find its footing, as I never fully knew where it was going. This is good from a predictability standpoint, but it features so many mysterious lines of dialogue that don’t entirely fit. Thankfully, the delivery is always excellent because we are dealing with one of the most stacked casts of the year. The standout in the first half is Cooper, but let’s not look past what Dafoe is bringing to his devious and fear-inducing leader of the bunch. The second half is completely owned by Cate Blanchett, as she immediately captures your attention with her introduction. This is also when the film becomes something else entirely, as our characters move on from the carnival setting.
While the visuals never fully take flight like they did in the first half, there is some excellent cinematography within these confined spaces. The secret to this half is the chemistry between Cooper and Blanchett. Even when it all becomes a bit overly complicated, there is always more than enough to draw you back in. The biggest topic of discussion will be the ending of the film. This is a finale that re-contextualizes everything we watched in the first half, and it truly makes the film better after sitting on it. I love what del Toro was able to do here, and it adds even more evidence to the fact that this is a character study. It is also much more Thriller than Horror, as it dives deep into noir territory, but there is never anything that truly comes across as scary. Nightmare Alley will absolutely require another watch to see how knowing this ending will impact it on second viewing, and that is exciting.
🔜The King’s Man❗️Embargo❗️