DisposableMiffy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Guillermo del Toro's films and I isn't exactly what one would describe as a story of fiery passion. I respect him, the guy knows how to make visually intriguing movies and get great performances from his actors. As a storyteller though, I must admit that I'm hardly ever on his wavelength.
On paper Nightmare Alley has everything going for it. Noir? Count me in! That cast? You betcha! Unusual setting? Yes, please! R-rating? Now we're talking! Unfortunately Nightmare Alley is not an exemption from my indifference toward del Toro.
I can't really pinpoint why I wasn't particularly engaged in the story. The characters were sufficiently developed and the performances mostly good. Cate Blanchett as femme fatale didn't work for me though. Something about her performance felt off. Or maybe - at the risk of sounding sexist - the issue isn't her acting, but rather how her face looks increasingly unnatural. She isn't yet as deep into the uncanny valley as Nicole Kidman or Sandra Bullock are, but it's distracting all the same.
Another issue I have is how goddamn prudish the movie is. Now, I didn't expect them to go full Verhoeven on the sex and nudity, but there was hardly any sexual tension to be felt. Use the leeway that comes with the R-rating for fuck's sake! Also, I didn't buy into the love story between Rooney Mara and Bradley Cooper.
I guess the biggest problem is that I went into Nightmare Alley expecting something less drab and a little more entertaining instead. It's a movie about a con man, and while that is probably not half as glamorous and fun in reality as movies typically want us to believe that it is, del Toro went out of his way to make Nightmare Alley as deprived of levity as possible. Of course that's his prerogative as a filmmaker. As it is mine as a viewer not to concur with the director's choices.