Nope Movie Review: A Remarkable Addition to Jordan Peele’s Genre
Not the cast of the film: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perera
Non-film director: Jordan Pele
Non classification of the film: 3.5 stars
The first thing that strikes you are the men in cowboy hats – against the horses, a vast expanse of land and sky, a stately home, a porch looking into the distance. Familiar? Look again. Because, Jordan Peele does not want it to be otherwise. And once you’ve done that – watched again – you can’t ignore what’s most remarkable about this scene: that those men on horseback are black. On ranches where countless have served as slaves, blacks as owners are always outsiders.
The insider who is an outsider is a recurring theme in Peele’s films. And Nope is the third in this, after Get Out and Us. More ambitious and at the same time less successful in straddling the fault lines compared to his other films, Nope is nevertheless a remarkable addition to his genre, especially in the relentless beauty and the jaw-dropping horror of its spectacle.
That there is one word that is crucial to Nope. The film opens with a text from Nahum (part of the Hebrew Bible) 3:6: “I will throw upon you abominable filth, I will make you vile, and I will make a spectacle of you.”
Who is the grime thrower, who is the spectacle, and how the tables are turned in a world where we are all increasingly spectators in the lives of others, lies at the heart of Nope.
Terrible things happen to people, and terrible things are done by them. There’s humor and pathos, drama and silliness, action and sometimes painful stillness in Nope’s tense but still lengthy length. There is too much of this UFO and too little fighting against it. Using titles to segment the storyline feels forced and lazy. But then there are its characters – each so unique, so different from your imagination that you’re bound to wonder why.
Watch the Nope movie trailer:
And that’s Peele’s strength. There’s a guy ostensibly called “OJ” (Otis Junior, played by Daniel Kaluuya) Haywood, who runs the ranch after his father’s inexplicable death, with a resignation and stoicism that hints less at the heroism associated with this American border and more to the futility of it all.
There’s his sister Emerald (Kate Palmer) Haywood, who, realizing her own marginal space in running the ranch, hangs around trying her hand at other things. She’s the complete opposite of OJ, a woman who can talk under the table in a room full of Hollywood executives, and Palmer adds just the right amount of sauce to Emerald.
There’s the Asian theme park owner who is OJ’s cowboy rival. After surviving an on-air massacre by a chimpanzee on a TV set, Jupe (Steven Yeun) has come to believe in her own invincibility. Imagine the odds of finding a man like Skirt hanging out in the middle of this nowhere.
There’s a tech store employee called Angel, a wonderfully nuanced Brandon Perea who pushes himself into Haywoods history because, after all, can withstand a show.
Then there’s Michael Wincott playing a famous cinematographer, almost obsessively married to his art and nothing else, speaking in a gruff, low voice as if pained by the sheer need to TO DO.
And then there is Hollywood itself, dominating this magnificent Wild West. The Haywoods have a deep connection to it, as they have provided horses to the industry for film shoots forever, and believe their story is tied to the very first movie (a scene lasting a few seconds) ever made. But what’s history for them is just a detail for showbiz – easily overlooked for the next big thing. Especially those like them existing on the margins.
OJ struggles to maintain his ranch by finding work in Hollywood, Emerald struggles to find her way there, and Jupe struggles to put him behind him.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography, especially of a strange creature or thing swimming through a night sky against clouds and dim lights, causing them to fade and rise again, is breathtaking. The nighttime sequences are so good you almost wish Peele didn’t skip to the daytime, where the use of inflatable men across a desolate landscape is a pretty device in itself.
The conceit of Nope is that even if your life depended on it, can you look away from a show? What makes a show a show? And what happens to those who are turned into spectacles? Plus, the layers of alienation that define where we end up.
Was Peele entirely successful? No. Especially since the writer-director-producer drags out the ending to an unnecessary length. But do you take your eyes off the thing that haunts the Haywoods, now shapeshifting, now beautiful, now horrible, now cruel, now curious? No.