A curious comment on our obsession with shows, Nope is a show unto itself – sprawling, glorious and breathtaking. Directed by Jordan Peele, it stars Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun and Brandon Perea. He’s playing at a theater near you.
Only three movies old, Jordan Peele has earned an enviable reputation as a filmmaker whose films are scathing, stinging critiques of the deep fissures that differentiate center from fringes, outsiders from insiders. He focuses his lens on the ominous chasm that most of us have trained ourselves to ignore or see through, too complacent to be bothered. As a result, Peele’s movies, even when they’re about aliens (like this one) are too real, making it hard to look away.
This is exactly what makes Peele’s films important, urgent and visceral, even if they don’t always succeed in what they set out to achieve. Although not as tight, ripping or magnetic as get out (2017) or We (2019), Nope is his most ambitious film to date. A curious commentary on our obsession with spectacle, it’s a spectacle unto itself — sprawling, glorious, and breathtaking. Set in the wild west of Los Angeles – the beautiful and arid desert of Agua Dulce, it revolves around a pair of Haywood siblings who struggle to maintain their legendary family ranch after their father is killed in a strange and abnormal event.
Peele reunites with Daniel Kaluuya in this one after their terrific breakthrough film get out. Kaluuya plays brother – OJ, Otis Junior Haywood. He is stoic, reluctant and thoughtful, resolute in his ambition to further the family’s legacy by providing horses for Hollywood movies and commercials. Keke Palmer joins him as his sister Emerald Haywood. They are diametrically opposed as most siblings are. She is sassy, sassy, lively and lights up every picture she finds herself in with her nimble energy. It is their solid relationship that is the basis Nope even when nothing else makes sense.
Nope opens with a verse from the Hebrew Bible: “I will throw upon you abominable filth, I will make you vile and I will make you a spectacle.” The movie pokes fun at how we humans can’t resist a sight even though we knew it could kill us. True to the Peele genre, it’s very black mirror-ish. His real horror lies in the fact that his idea of dystopia is not an imaginary fantasy or in the distant future. We live it. Every day. In fact, we have become so desensitized to it that we hardly notice it anymore. We are the joke, in all its horrible reality.
When the Haywood siblings become sure of a menacing unidentified flying object around their ranch, their first instinct is to capture it before anyone else. They think it will end their financial troubles, help them get their ranch and horses back, and make them more famous than their great-great-grandfather who they say was the man on horseback in the first music video. never realized.
They know the pursuit will most likely kill them, but they pursue it nonetheless. There’s a revealing scene in which a biker (allegedly from a tabloid) is about to be swallowed by the UFO, but all he cares about is his camera and that someone should all film. It’s not too different from all of us taking selfies while driving or in precarious tourist spots or how most passers-by film an accident or mishap instead of stepping in to help. We no longer watch black mirror. We are inside.
Kaluuya and Palmer are fantastic as two marginalized young black Americans brave enough to want to fight the invincible but crazy enough to think they can. Angel, an employee of a local tech store (played by scene-stealer Brandon Perea), joins them in their impossible attempt. They also end up convincing a veteran cinematographer called Antlers (Michael Wincott) to film their chase.
Nope also features Steven Yeun as Jupe, a former child star who witnesses horrific carnage on the set of a TV show when a chimpanzee goes mad, resulting in a ruthless and unforgettable rampage. Now the leader of a western-style theme park adjacent to the Haywood Ranch, Jupe is still nursing the trauma of the childhood incident, but unafraid to process it to the last drop.
The theme of alienation – insiders who constantly feel like outsiders – much like Peele’s other films, is also found in this one. All the main characters exist on the fringes of Hollywood, aspiring to enter it. Its majestic presence eclipses their history, threatens to consume their present (much like the UFO) and they want it to illuminate their future.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s jaw-dropping cinematography matches Peele’s crazy vision. The film is beautifully shot, especially the nighttime sequences and the brutal barrenness of the open, wild wild west. It’s exquisite. Add to that the score of Michael Abels. It builds tension when the film needs it and lets loose whenever all hell breaks loose in a satisfying, cathartic way. Together van Hoytema and Abels do Nope a sensory feast.
He is Nope structure that undoes it. Peele, who also wrote and produced it, broke it up into chapters, which cut into scenes and are poorly done. Sure, the film is a stunning allegory, dense with social subtext and it asks you big existential questions, but what happens on the ground fails to come together into a cohesive whole. Peele spends too much time on the UFO buildup, relegating the actual fight against him to the climax. When it finally happens, it’s too little too late.
Nope the execution is a bit confusing, but its scope is unlimited. It’s a rare and glorious blend of horror, sci-fi, and realism that will have you sitting in a corner and thinking for a long time. It shows you different ways of seeing, consuming, and the need and futility of trying to preserve for posterity. It’s not an easy task, right? But then, Peele is no ordinary Joe either, is he? Do you know the answer.
First post: STI