New from Kevin Wozniak on Kevflix: Movie Review: Nope

 

Jordan Peele’s Nope is the director’s biggest film to date and arguably his most impressive, which is a lot to say seeing as his debut film, the Oscar-winning Get Out, has become a cultural touchstone, and his follow-up, Us, features one of the great performances of the last ten years from Lupita Nyong’o. Where Get Out and Us felt smaller in terms of their scale but huge with their themes, Nope is a perfect combination of spectacle and smarts. A film with truly stunning visuals and set pieces while also featuring tremendous performances and complex themes.

OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) have inherited a horse ranch from their industry-legend father, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) where they train and wrangle horses for movies. Despite being great at their jobs, business is tough, and their late father left them in a hole of debt. Across from the Haywood’s Santa Clarita Valley ranch is a family fun center and petting zoo run by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeon), a former child star whose biggest claim to fame is being part of a sitcom where the show’s chimpanzee character attacked the cast and crew. Otis sells horses to Ricky to make ends meet and not make the inevitable decision of being forced to sell the ranch.

OJ and Emerald start to notice unexplained happenings around the ranch. Things like a stagnant cloud, electrical surges, weird movements in the sky, and strange behavior from their horses make OJ and Emerald suspicious about what could possibly be happening. OJ and Emerald, along with Angel (Brandon Perea), a tech store employee who hooked up the camera system at the ranch and gets caught up in all the conspiracies and chaos, continuously try and get a shot of the phenomenon in the sky while also doing everything they can to protect their legendary ranch.

You feel like Peele has hit his full form as a director while watching Nope. Both Get Out and Us were visually interesting and well made, but Nope takes Peele to a new level. This is easily the biggest movie of his short directorial career in terms of scale, yet it never felt like it was made by a director with only three movies under his belt or that this was the first time a director worked on a scale like this. Peele clearly understands how big this movie is and how big invasion movies are supposed to be. The cinematography by the great Hoyte Van Hoytema is some of the best I have seen this year. The vast mountain landscapes are coupled with the smaller, quieter moments inside the ranch, and it all looks gorgeous. Peele also shows that he is a master of balancing tones, making a movie that is filled with scenes of relentless intensity, thrilling action, and tons of humor.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in Nope
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in Nope

Peele never lets the scale of the movie get in the way of the characters, themes, and ideas that he is playing with here. Peele made a movie about the Black legacy in Hollywood, while also looking at the Hollywood system in general. OJ can easily sell the ranch and make back the money that he is down and that he has lost, but he refuses. And even when things start to get more and more intense in the sky, OJ and Emerald refuse to leave the ranch, despite what is happening to be a seemingly isolated incident. OJ can’t break away from the history of the ranch and what its legacy means. Kaluuya and Palmer are excellent as OJ and Emerald. The two have perfect sibling chemistry as their personalities could not be more different. OJ is quiet, stoic, and has the legacy of the ranch lingering heavy on his shoulders. Emerald is loud, happy, and borderline obnoxious. She sometimes can’t read a room and OJ can’t quite tell her that she’s stepping out of line, but you feel that these two love each other and love the ranch that they run. OJ’s muted demeanor allows for Kaluuya’s eyes to do a ton of heavy lifting in terms of his expressions. You know everything OJ is thinking without him saying a word. Palmer is a lightning rod of energy and a star in the making. Yeon is also great as Stevie, the tortured showman who has decided to turn his trauma and personality into a spectacle.

Watching Nope, I was reminded of a young Steven Spielberg, particularly the Spielberg who made Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Both of those films showed maturity and growth in Spielberg in terms of scale and his filmmaking, just like Nope has done with Peele. The characters in those films, like Nope, are unique, memorable, and expertly acted. The set pieces are exciting and stunning, and some of the story beats are even similar. But it is Peele’s understanding of spectacle and story that really felt the most Spielbergian, something Spielberg has mastered and something Peele seems to clearly understand. I am not going to claim Peele the “next Speilberg” or the “next…” anything. He is the first Jordan Peele, one of the most exciting and best filmmakers working today and Nope is his latest outstanding achievement and one of the best movies of 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

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