This isn’t a perfect film but there are certain moments of perfection within the 150 minutes of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. For that reason alone, this is a noteworthy feature for this year’s Oscars. I don’t hesitate to put forward acting performances from (deep breath) Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette and Willem Dafoe, whilst David Strathairn is particularly worth a mention.


Each fight for screen time to deliver an acting masterclass and whilst Rooney Mara might be a notable absentee from my list this is purely down to lacking a moment that delivered fire on screen – and there is plenty here both literally and figuratively. And fire is a good measuring stick; imagine a magician’s act where there are sparks throughout his sleight of hand card tricks – you know once he wheels out the cannon he will be going out with a bang. Guillermo del Toro delivers the perfect bang in this neo-noir psychological thriller, and by setting a tone for the film which allows you to indulge in these performances – all the while you are on the edge… Each character has likeable qualities but these are not particularly people we should be rooting for. A dirty past and swindling their way to the top is a common theme throughout. It’s a fair reflection of modern day society and politics but this is set firmly in 1940’S New York. And it’s all the better for it, the city lights up beautifully, as it always should.


Our beginnings are with a travelling circus. A circus full of freaks; but not all that threatening. And no matter how much del Toro is hellbent on causing chaos –this is actually a very enjoyable ride. One that feels like it’s taken straight from the pages of a comic book, despite being based on the 1946 novel by William Lindsay [reference]. Cooper’s lead role sees him develop from an opening scene loser to quickly playing hero, including heartfelt romance… But a chink in his armour is tested at every turn. It’s fascinating seeing how this is played out, the seeds are sewn early on and del Toro makes sure it is front and centre of the screen but somehow – and all good filmmakers are good at this trick – it will still catch you by surprise. There are moments you might want to watch through your fingers but not necessarily because they are gruesome, it’s arguably most disgusting due to the basic behaviours of man. When cornered they will do what they must, to survive.


I definitely have to recommend this film to you! It’s gorgeous up on the silver screen and keeps a steady pace to keep you in suspense throughout. I admit that I left the cinema cold, and not just because of January’s freezing temperatures… I never quite fell in love with any of the characters despite del Toro’s best efforts. But I don’t think you have to, to enjoy this. You just have to understand each person’s motive. It’s a masterclass of acting and there are some nasty people out there. And sometimes those actions are circumstantial, understandable even. Entertaining? I’d certainly say so.

Out now and currently playing at HOME Manchester Cinema