Jordan Peele’s Third Effort is a bit Shaggy but Thrills Nevertheless.
DIRECTED BY JORDAN PEELE / 2022
Although Nope is just his third feature film, it’s safe to say that when a Jordan Peele movie is released, it is justifiably an event. The writer/director/producer made a big splash with his debut film Get Out back in 2017. It was followed by Us in 2019. Us had the unfortunate distinction of being the director’s sophomore effort following such an instant classic. As wildly entertaining and thrilling as Us is, there was no way it was going to live up to its predecessor. Nope, on the other hand, is freer to be taken on its own merits. And those merits rank very highly indeed. Nope is entertaining, imaginative, and wholly original, even as you recognize the movie’s influences from Close Encounters and Signs.
So what is Nope about? The teasers and trailers released thus far make it seem as if it is the story of two horse ranchers, a brother and sister played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, whose ranch is being menaced by something from the skies. Aliens, you might be forgiven to think. Steven Yuen also features prominently as Ricky, a showman who has some sort of wild west show that somehow ties into the plot. Certainly, the movie’s title isn’t giving anything away, save that there are going to be things happening that people aren’t going to want to get involved with.
And I’m happy to report that the trailer has perfectly captured the experience of actually sitting down and watching the movie.
I was concerned about spoiling too much of Nope‘s plot as I wrote my review, but I don’t think I need have worried. Nope is… well, the actual plot of Nope is probably the least important element to it. Things happen- a lot of things. There are flashbacks and sidebars and other characters pop in for a couple of scenes (hello, Michael Wincott and Keith David! It’s been too long), and a lot of stuff happens and it’s at turns exciting and funny and tense (and where is this storyline with the chimp taking us?). But even now, a few days after I’ve seen it, I find it hard to piece it all back together into a coherent whole.
That makes it sound like a harsh criticism of the movie, and I don’t mean it to be because I was, on the whole, engaged and entertained by whatever was happening on screen at any given moment. Nope is a film that will reward a second (and third even) viewing. There’s so much good in there, that even when you’re not sure how everything fits together, even after it’s over, you love the attempt.
And so much of that good comes from Kaluuya and Palmer’s performances. Their relationship as estranged siblings brought back together by a most unexpected tragedy forms the solid spine of the movie, even as it threatens to spin off the rails. Kaluuya plays O.J. Haywood, a man who’s trying to hold together his father’s horse ranch by any means necessary in uncertain economic times, and Palmer is Emerald, who’d be happy to just sell the whole thing off and be done with it once and for all. Remove the supernatural and fantastic elements of the story and you’d have a wonderful little family drama anchored by solid leads.
But as a genre director, Peele knows how to get the most out of those fantastic elements. Like the aforementioned Close Encounters and Signs, Peele knows the value of a long, slow burn. He lets the story play out with patience, knowing that when the action finally does start, the audience will know the wait was worth it. And he is absolutely right. The final act of the movie is one stunning shot or sequence after another leading up to a final punchline that had me laughing out loud. And while you watch it, you forget all about all the little tangents that don’t seem to lead anywhere even as you’re sure Peele has strong ideas about how it all ties together.
Nope is an ambitious spin on the alien invasion movie. Even when Peele can’t quiiiiite reach the point he’s trying to make, one has to applaud his attempt at it. Now, when does his next film come out?