The Daily Stream: Guillermo Del Toro's Carnival Noir Nightmare Alley Is Now Streaming (In Two Places!)

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Nightmare Alley"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max and Hulu

The Pitch: Guillermo del Toro takes William Lindsay Gresham's novel (previously adapted into an excellent film in 1947) and works his dark magic. The story follows Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a morally bankrupt mystery man who works his way up from low-rent carnie to a full-blown nightclub act. But when he gets involved with a shady psychologist (Cate Blanchett), he may be in over his head. Full of carnival sideshows, dark shadows, and lots and lots of cigarette smoke, "Nightmare Alley" is del Toro in top form.

Why It's Essential Viewing

A new Guillermo del Toro movie is always cause for celebration. But since we're in this weird era where only comic book movies draw a real crowd, "Nightmare Alley" flopped at the box office. That's a damn shame, but now that the movie is streaming in two different places, I hope those who avoided it will seek it out. Working with a script co-written by Kim Morgan, del Toro gets to conjure up all sorts of stylish touches. And while I think the 1947 film is a bit better, that movie was saddled with a very Hollywood happy ending. The del Toro version doesn't have to succumb to such a cop-out, and instead revels in darkness.

Is it time we all admit Bradley Cooper is a great actor? I think so, and he does some of the best work of his career here. His Stan is a bit of a mystery — he comes from seemingly nowhere, and we can never quite get inside his head. But we know he's always scheming, and always trying to work his way to the top. And he does, eventually. First, he becomes an assistant to a carnival fortune teller (Toni Collette). Then, he heads out into the world with his girlfriend, fellow carnival-worker Molly (Rooney Mara) along for the ride. Stan and Molly end up creating a fancy mesmerist act for a fancy nightclub — and it's there he notices Dr. Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett. 

Blanchett doesn't show up until late in the picture, and her role is relatively small. But she makes every second count, playing an icy femme fatale who seems to breathe nothing but cigarette smoke. Stan and Lilith form an alliance to con one of Lilith's wealthy patients, played by Richard Jenkins. And while Stan thinks he has everything under control, he's only digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole he soon won't be able to climb out of.

Stylish, sexy, and strange, "Nightmare Alley" clocks in at 2 hours and 30 minutes, but that time flies by, resulting in a final scene that's wickedly brilliant and altogether unsettling. It's the type of final scene that lingers with you long after the film has ended.