MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David, Donna Mills, Barbie Ferreira, Devon Graye, Eddie Jemison, Oz Perkins, Terry Notary, Andrew Patrick Ralston, Jennifer Lafleur/Runtime: 135 minutes
I think it can easily be said that with the first two slices of cinema he helmed, Get Out from 2017 and Us from 2019 respectively, Jordan Peele has managed to give us a trinity of things to know about who he is as a film director. That trinity of things being he is an incredibly intelligent storyteller, he has a terrific eye for detail as shown through the partnerships he cultivated with the cinematography and editing departments on those films, and he is an ace at engaging in setting a scene for his talented cast of players to make the absolute most of. As a result, we see that those two slices of cinema are ones that are wonderfully performed, riveting, equipped with just the right pace, and no less than a feast for the eyes courtesy of every frame being extremely detailed and just intriguing to look at. More than that though is the fact that Peele has made it so that these two slices of cinema are ones you could watch 21 times and still enjoy them no matter what due in large part to the fact that you’re able to pick up on new things that you might have missed the first 20 times you watched them. Suffice it to say that I think it can easily be said that this visionary has been able to make one of the most delightful impacts on the land of movie magic in easily the past 2-3 decades and we as movie goers are all the better for the contributions that he has made without question. With that said however, it should be said that with his newest slice of cinema I can certainly comprehend why you might feel a twinge of reluctance towards it. I mean not only would it be highly unusual for a film helmer’s first three, let alone two, directorial efforts happen to be complete and utter home runs, but this slice of cinema also happens to be the first project he’s made that began really forming in his mind in the aftermath of Get Out’s success back in 2017. Plus with a marketing campaign that had a final trailer that maybe showed more than it ought to have, I mean this slice of cinema must surely not be on the level of those first two films am I right? Well to use the title of the film in a slightly snarky and creative way nope! Indeed this newest slice of cinema from Mr. Peele may be a more distinct brand of terror than those first two films when looking at it through the prisms of thematic concepts, scale, and artistically respectively, but it is also in equal measure just as riveting, hair-raising, and just plain awesome as those other cinematic efforts as well. Indeed Nope is very much a slice of cinema that gives us a terror-tinged analysis of the present day definition of presentation that has similar creative DNA to a certain filmmaker’s early work, but which at the end of the day also manages to be a phenomenally made and acted slice of cinema that is enjoyably intelligent yet also genuinely unnerving in the best way possible
The plot is as follows: So as you might know my dear reader, the realms of history are filled to the brim with instances where just because someone claims to be the first to have done something isn’t always the case. The reason I bring this up is because the legacy of our main characters is such an example of this. In this case, according to the lore set up by the film, the black gentleman who was seen riding a horse in a series of moving photos from the 19th century that could easily be called the first motion picture was the great-great-great (give or take) grandfather of a pair of horse trainers in Los Angeles by the names of OJ and Emerald Haywood respectively. A fact that comes into play courtesy of our two main heroes trying desperately to convey this fact to the incredulous individuals that have brought them into a studio to take part in filming a commercial. Unfortunately, we see that our dynamic duo end up getting booted from the shoot due to an incident involving their prize pony Lucky. Tragically, such stumbling blocks have become quite the norm for the siblings ever since the sudden passing of their father, Otis Sr. A passing that, we soon learn, was an equal mix of both a freak accident and mysterious. It seems a quarter, among other random metal items, fell from the sky and made its way into dear old Pop’s head and killed him. Since then we can now see that, no matter how hard he works, OJ has had difficulty keeping the family business going to the point that he is having to resort to selling horses to a former kid star who now operates a fairly seedy Wild West theme part in the nearby vicinity. Of course, further complicating matters is the fact that OJ hasn’t really gotten a whole lot of aid from his sister since in terms of actual work she seems to be deathly allergic to the idea. Yet just when the family legacy seems to be close to being extinguished, we see things take a turn when one night whilst bringing back a horse that weirdly got out, OJ sees something mysterious dart through the clouds. Something incidentally that is also capable of knocking out the power on the ranch when it is near. Of course, as a lot of people would think, our heroes immediately assume this means they are being visited by organisms from another planet. Yet even this close encounter puts a fear into OJ, we see that Emerald has other ideas. Perhaps this is why we see that in no time at all our duo has managed to shanghai both a Fry’s Electronics employee named Angel and an icon in the film industry named Antlers Holst into a slightly harebrained plot to get the best footage of a UFO to date. Footage that won’t just show the world aliens undeniably exist, but give the Haywood line a first that they can then capitalize on for the rest of their days. Of course, as we all know sometimes the best laid plans of mice, men, and schemers don’t go as planned. Suffice it to say this is most assuredly one of those times…
Now it should be pointed out that the franticness to our main characters’ goal since after all they only have so much time to get both this footage and the subsequent glory before someone in the vein of TMZ swipes it right from under them does manage to showcase film scribe/helmer Jordan Peele’s fascination with how we as a society are hopelessly fixated on seeing the money shot even when what we are about to see might just be genuinely terrifying. Put another way dear reader, this slice of cinema is one that, to extent, is a cautionary saga about our own perverse fascination with seeing destruction and chaos through the safety net of a camera lend or, if possible, to be the first to capture images of the event in question. Suffice it to say that the argument could be made that this film is dealing with such a significant amount of elements that a person could easily claim this film might have bitten off more than it could chew. Indeed much in the same vein as his second film, this one is working with quite a few ideas at its disposal. In this one however, we see that Peele has tossed weird allegory to the side in favor of giving us a narrative about the bond between siblings and of business hustle that is actually a bit more (dare I say) down to Earth.. Or, at least, as down to Earth as things can be in a slice of cinema of this ilk. Yet perhaps the biggest distinguishing factor that this film is operating with as compared to Peele’s previous two slices of cinema is in regards to how unashamedly it shows off its praise for African American ingenuity and intelligence. A concept best personified by the fact that the film, without going into spoilers, does show that there might just be more to both our main characters than we may initially give them credit for. With that being said we do see that Peele, as par for the course, does also include a fair bit of barbed sociopolitical nuance to this film as well. Yet despite viewing and approaching all of these thematic concepts with a genuine sincerity, there is no denying that some do unfortunately get pushed to the wayside a little bit in this. Perhaps the worst example of this is yes the film does take the idea that the world around us for whatever reason has this insatiable appetite for showing everyone else what feels like every single minute of their lives while they’re awake to the most absurd point imaginable. At the same time though, this slice of cinema doesn’t really say much past prodding us in the direction of realizing that maybe instead of seeing Pink Floyd (or a UFO) through the lens on a smartphone we should just enjoy the moment instead. Yet despite not being as on-point as Get Out was, we still see that the big moments found in this slice of cinema are quite astonishing to say nothing of incredibly well-done. Aiding in this endeavor is the fact that the work from the editing department is no more and no less than Grade-A flawless. Finally, is also be noted that this slice of cinema is the gracious beneficiary of having the terrific contributions of a gifted cinematographer by the name of Hoyte Van Hoytema, whose credits include every slice of cinema helmed by Christopher Nolan since he finished his time with the Caped Crusader, behind the camera. Indeed Van Hoytema manages to work his magic here as well and makes this slice of cinema into Peele’s finest-looking movie so far especially in regard to moments at night that are both gorgeous to behold, but which also do a truly wonderful job of magnifying our cast of characters, and by extension all of us, anxious befuddlement about just what is being seen thus raising the suspense in the film immensely. Suffice it to say that the work behind the camera goes a long way toward not only making this film look and sound absolutely stunning, but in making sure there is some hefty and thought-provoking substance to sift through and ponder as well.
Now it should be noted that the truly phenomenal work accomplished by Peele and his immensely skilled crew working behind the camera in this slice of horror cinema is thankfully equaled by the immensely wonderful performances being acted out in front of it courtesy of both a collection of terrific supporting performances as well as its dynamic lead duo who bring a terrific pair of styles that may not seem like they will coalesce all that well, but actually do when all is said and done. This starts with the always wonderful Daniel Kaluuya in the role of OJ. Yet I feel you should know that this character is in no way a retread of the character of Chris who Kaluuya portrayed in Peele’s first directorial effort Get Out. Indeed whereas Chris was a very emotive character, the character of OJ is one that is meant to possess a level of straight-faced detachment to everything that would make an actor like Clint Eastwood proud. Having said that however, we see that Kaluuya also brings forth a wonderful sense of both gravitas as well as potent control that proves to be immensely riveting as he immerses himself into figuring out the enigma at the heart of the story. No it is not by any means the most revealing performance in the world, but it is one that is quite pathos-driven to say nothing of allowing Kaluuya to be an on-point straight man in all the loony proceedings that occur in this film as well thus making it a true winner in every sense of the word. Without a doubt, the most engaging performance in the film is Keke Palmer in the role of OJ’s sister Emerald. Indeed not only is her youthful hustle and enthusiasm just downright engaging, but I love how she really does manage to be on the same wavelength as a lot of the other characters in this in ways that are distinct yet also seemingly genuine as well. This starts with the brother/sister bond between Emerald and OJ who may not exactly mesh all that well in terms of personality, but Palmer and Kaluuya do seem like they could authentically be siblings in terms of how they actually bring out the best in each other especially when things are at their most chaotic and as such the bond between the two really is something special to witness. More than that though, we also see that Em is able to showcase that she can distinctly connect with a fair majority of the supporting characters as well be it fangirling out when she gets to meet Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, slowly but surely becoming more onboard with Angel aiding her and OJ, or expressing genuine respect toward iconic cinematographer Antlers Holst. Suffice it to say that it is a truly vibrant performance and one that I hope leads to Palmer getting more roles like it because she is truly something special in this. Along with our dynamic lead duo however, we see that the support cast in this slice of cinema is also on-point as well and every single one of them, no matter how big their role, does a wonderful job in bringing the world of this film so vividly and terrifyingly to life. This includes such efforts as a wonderful low-key effort from the always welcome Keith David who I was glad to see back in a “mainstream” slice of cinema again, Steven Yeun who as Jupe does a wonderful job of giving us a guy who externally shows off all the assertiveness and charm in the world, but internally gives off an unnerving vibe that this guy isn’t really all there if you get my meaning, Brandon Perea who in the role of Angel does a wonderful job at giving us a character that may start out one way yet by film’s end has completely evolved into someone else entirely, and Michael Wincott who does a terrific job at being a spot-on “present day” take on a certain character from Jaws that I won’t spoil here because it may or may not reveal certain things about where exactly his arc in this slice of cinema chooses to traverse to name bit a couple of the more noteworthy supporting performances here. Thus there may be issues that one could have with this slice of cinema, but I definitely don’t think it will be found with the performances for everyone involved in front of the camera really does bring their A-game to this and then some.
All in all with all of those positives on the table, I still think it should be said that sadly Nope is by no means a perfect slice of cinema. Nor for that matter is this even on the level of Us or especially Get Out (though not for lack of effort). Indeed it may take you a minute to figure out just what formula this slice of cinema is operating with, but trust me when I say that the moment you do will be the moment where everything starts to make a bit more sense (albeit also predictable in certain aspects). Even with that in mind though, there is no denying that Nope is still a fairly well done slice of cinema. Indeed the work done behind the camera is immensely well done and the cast in front of the camera is just as on-point. Thus if you’re in the mood for a distinct spin on a time-honored cinematic record then give this slice of cinema a watch and then come on back. I am sure we will have a few things to discuss. On a scale of 1-5 I give Nope “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.