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The film looks like a million bucks, but beyond the gloss lies a movie that’s emotionally hollow, bloated and self-indulgent.

With sumptuous production design that brings late-thirties, early forties America alive Nightmare Alley looks like a million bucks but at the centre there is an emotional hollow that the movie never overcomes.

If this is indeed the picture director Guillermo del Toro has wanted to make for the best part of three decades, he singularly fails to answer the question 'why exactly'. Never having read the novel or seen the lauded 1947 film adaptation, I can't be certain if Nightmare Alley's flaws lie in the source material or in del Toro's approach to this tale of a grifter who gets caught up in his own ill-fated ambitions.

I presume it's the latter, as he and co-writer Kim Morgan neglect to come up with clear motivations for lead actor Bradley Cooper. The overarching theme - 'you are fated to become what you fear most' - isn't a revelation either, nor are the performances of the big-name supporting cast, except for the always reliable David Strathairn.

In short: Nightmare Alley has all the hallmarks of a film one makes after winning big at the Oscars: bloated, self-indulgent and of very little interest to paying audiences.

release: 2021

director: Guillermo del Toro

starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe


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