Jordan Peele’s “Nope” is one of the most inventive and entertaining genre films in years.
In a sluggish cinematic year Peele has directed a film that is clever from scene to scene. There isn’t a moment where you take your eyes off of the screen.
Set in a vast and beautiful valley, Daniel Kaluuya plays OJ, a man doing his best to keep his family’s Black-owned and operated ranch afloat. The business supplies horses for Hollywood productions big and small.
OJ does almost all of the work while his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer, in a superbly alive performance), takes care of the face to face customer interactions. Where her brother is a soft-spoken man of few words, Emerald is a force of personality.
The two aren’t as close as they were in their youth, having drifted apart since the loss of their father (Keith David), but coming events will recharge their lost bond.
Strange things are happening in the skies that blanket The Haywood ranch. Horses are acting skittish. Clouds aren’t what they seem. Something is most definitely out there.
Writer/director Peele creates a wonderful air of tension as he slowly lays down his path of wonders. Much like Steven Spielberg’s Science Fiction classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, the audience doesn’t know whether to be frightened or intrigued. There are many moments where we feel both.
Steven Yuen is introduced as Jupe, a showman who runs a combination Old Western town/alien sideshow. Jupe knows the events in the sky are real and charges his patrons for the chance at something that will “change their life.” Yeun’s character has an important backstory that the film slowly reveals over time. It is smart how Peele’s screenplay weaves in Jupe’s past to coincide with the current otherworldly events. Pay close attention, as it all connects.
Into the mix comes Angel (Brandon Perea), an electronics clerk who helps OJ and Emerald set up the security cameras around the ranch. Angel quickly discovers they are looking for UFOs and wants badly to help, becoming both a pain in their necks and an ally.
We also meet respected cinematographer Antlers Holst (the legend that is Michael Wincott). Homey constructed a hand-cranked IMAX camera (that works despite the energy failings during the events) and concedes to help them achieve “the stuff dreams are made of, or, as Emerald and OJ call it, “the Oprah shot.”
The alien entity is marvelously handled. While I will not reveal its purpose, nor what it is, I will say how much fun the director has teasing his audience with small sightings and glimpses of the sky where something just might be (is!) watching. The visual effects team does grand work here.
Peele, a born filmmaker, assembles a cinematic buffet of tense, edge-of-your-seat moments filled with originality and imagination and well timed moments of natural humor. One of the best being an imaginative “game” of deadly hide and seek between Kaluuya and the threat in the sky. It is a marvelous sequence that kept me smiling at its joyous creativity.
Hoyt Van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film its spectacle while never overdoing his camerawork. The vastness of the ranch and the valley on which it resides are masterfully shot, with the skies above existing as an intoxicating mixture of beauty and menace.
Among the many treats held within the picture, the director gets excellent performances from his two leads and knows how to use their respective talents to the fullest potential.
Palmer is on fire as the boisterous Emerald. She is confident in her diction, bold in her confrontations, but hides a personal pain that she forces down. The actress is a sharp and funny fireworks display of emotion.
Daniel Kaluuya is absolutely intense as OJ. The Oscar-winning actor uses the intensity of his deep eyes and helps to build tension through his precise movements. This is an inventive and almost kabuki-like turn that is a true highlight in a film full of them.
Peele has proven himself a modern master of manipulation. In the genre world, many moments from each of his three films (“Get Out”, “Us”, and now “Nope”) are as boldly entertaining as some of the works from John Carpenter and (dare I say) Alfred Hitchcock.
Jordan Peele has earned these fitting comparisons through his well crafted, intelligent, and supremely entertaining work. In a Hollywood of recycled ideas and uninspiring filmmakers, Peele’s voice is fresh.
“Nope” is a superb film crafted with style and smarts.
This is a creepy, suspenseful, and completely riveting experience that is not to be missed.