A Jordan Peele feature is an event in its own right. His films, all original stories and visions in the horror/comedy milieu, are challenging, expertly made, and peculiar in the best ways. It’s kind of shocking that he has found a pretty substantial audience which has allowed each movie to be bigger than the last. His latest, ‘Nope’, is ambitious in scope, if limited in setting. Admittedly, after experiencing it, it’s hard to say whether or not it will find a mass audience, but hopefully its intrigue will carry it forward, allowing him to continue his wonderful experimentation in the art form.
‘Nope’ ostensibly stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as brother and sister, OJ and Emerald Haywood, inheritors of a ranch that trains horses for show business, but the film doesn’t start with them. Instead, as with all of Peele’s creations, it begins with an intriguing and puzzling flashback. This time it’s the aftermath of an attack on the set of what the audience will discover to be a late-90s sitcom starring a chimpanzee and a child actor whose grown-up version, Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, is played by the inimitable Steven Yeun. This scene is then followed by another bizarre accident scene, as Keith David, the patriarch of the Haywood clan, is pelted by tiny objects falling from great heights as he tends to the horses on his ranch. By the time Em delivers her energetic spiel that explains that the Haywoods are descendants of the first image captured on film, a black jockey riding a horse, the viewer is completely and totally transported into Peele’s world, at his utter mercy.
In all of Peele’s feature films, his collaborations with his actors are right on target. As soon as Palmer shows up, it’s apparent that she is the ball of energy counter to her brother OJ’s stoic but shy rancher. While she is obviously interested in the pursuit of fame and fortune, he’s content, and then it turns out determined, to continue his low-key existence in equine company. What they have in common without maybe consciously realizing, is a deep reverence for their family legacy and a pride in the fact that they are indelibly rooted in the history of motion pictures. Yuen’s Jupe is a singular creation, a man simultaneously shackled and tortured by nostalgia, yet played as a former child star who revels in his fame, so much so that he bases the park he owns and presides over on every element of those childhood hits and demons. It’s yet another fascinating portrayal from the versatile actor. The performances set the tempo for what turns out to be a film paced both lackadaisically and frantically, sometimes within the same sequence.
While some may flinch at the grandeur and just out of view and blurry shocks placed in the extremely wide-angle of the lens, fans will marvel at his style and playful redirection of some obvious influences like Spielberg and Shyamalan. In many ways, ‘Nope’ recalls the spine-tingling wonderment of ‘Signs’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ in its first half, which then almost morphs into a ‘Jaws’ pastiche. It’s best to let the events unfurl on their own, but suffice it to say, this is Jordan Peele’s take on the UFO (or UAP as the modern term referred to in a hilarious sequence featuring a scene-stealing Brandon Perea). Just as he did with ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’, he plays within genre to riff on both the tropes of the past and the deep-seated troubles of the modern day. In ‘Nope’, he uses the intrigue/threat/wonder of the unknown and the human desire to capture a moment on celluloid to make a surprising statement about the modern intertwining of greed and fame at the unwitting cost to others, including the uncontrollable natural and unnatural world . . .
Written & Directed By: Jordan Peele
Running Time: 130 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) – OR – A-