By Jared Rasic, Last Word Features
Don’t let anyone spoil “Nope” for you. It’s not hiding some mind-blowing twist like a
Shyamalan picture, but watching Jordan Peele use his considerably astounding craft to weave a story is breathtaking. Following him across the dark and bloody patches of his imagination is a treat for us lovers of suspense and, with his third film, Peele is in full control of his abilities.
Not that he already wasn’t for his first film, “Get Out,” which walked a razor thin line
between satire, horror and social commentary while telling a story that felt immediately of-the-moment. Peele deconstructed aspects of the woke movement while also poking fun at white liberal guilt, but also told a genuinely original and creepy story.
With his second movie, “Us,” he leaned fully into horror while still clocking in with
modern social issues and the inherited pain of forgotten swaths of society. If Peele wasn’t
telling a genuinely compelling story with “Us,” then none of the subtext would hold power. But he shaped such an original horror story that we feel the weight of the commentary even as we get spooked and laugh through the terror.
Peele proves something beyond a doubt with “Nope.” He’s evolving and growing as a
filmmaker and storyteller. His vision here feels uncompromising, with an escalating sense of cinematic language that puts him into a very rare air of filmmakers operating on this level for their third film. But what he’s also done is put his deconstructionist tendencies and social commentaries so much deeper into the subtext of the film that it actually takes some effort from the viewer this time to unpack the layers of meaning.
All I will say about the story is that Daniel Kaluuya plays O.J., a horse trainer in
Hollywood that starts seeing weird things out at his ranch, and Keke Palmer is Emerald, his
sister who has no interest in the country life. Kaluuya changes his physicality completely for the role, playing a much more lumbering and quiet man than we’ve ever seen from him.
Palmer proves that she’s a movie star and that Hollywood is missing out on not having her star in everything.
What amazes me about Peele as a storyteller is that with “Nope” he has his biggest
budget yet, is working with one of the finest cinematographers on the planet in Hoyte van
Hoytema (“Interstellar” and “Her,” among others) and is telling a story on a much larger scale than ever before, but he still doesn’t go the route of making a four-quadrant crowd pleaser. A lot of people aren’t going to like this movie because it doesn’t use the familiar tropes of storytelling to be as immediately satisfying as something like the new “Top Gun.”
Instead, Peele tells a deeply metaphorical story about the disassociation of trauma in
America, the white-washing of history and our ability as a species to never grow full on a diet of bad news and worse images, while also putting together a heart-racing
thriller/deconstructionist western with ever-escalating tension that plays like a master
conductor showing his audience how to combine sound, design, image, performance and
silence to create art that’s personal and populist at the same time.
“Nope” will probably be less satisfying to mass audiences because it doesn’t have the
straightforward horror of “Us” or the intricate plotting of “Get Out,” and will be more
disappointing to critics because its big ideas can’t be boiled down to a single thesis. Instead, “Nope” is a big weird movie that I can’t talk about as much as I want to because to spoil this thing would be awful. This movie probably isn’t what you think it is and some people will love that and some people will be hugely disappointed. For what it’s worth, this is the best movie of Peele’s career, whether we realize it now or decades into the future.