Movie Review: Nope
by Jason Koenigsberg
Academy Award winner Jordan Peele is back with his third feature film after his Oscar Winning debut Get Out (2017) and his sophomore follow up Us (2019). For a guy who got his start with a skit show on Comedy Central who would have thought that he would write and direct three strong films in a row. With Nope, Jordan Peele has solidified himself as one of the preeminent filmmakers to emerge from the last five years. Nope is his least political and least social conscientious film to date but it still has a strong message. It is his most fantasy filled and visually impressive work. Peele tackles ambitious Spielberg-ian themes which makes Nope feel like his Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) while paying homage to the origins of cinema as well as westerns and science fiction films that have come before it.
Right away the film starts with the audio of a discussion involving aurora borealis and space travel over the Universal Pictures logo. The opening shot focuses on a shoe standing upright at an angle that looks like it defies physics with the toe end pointing straight up on its own. The next shot is an image of a chimpanzee on a TV set with blood on his hands and face. This image combined with what has been shown in the trailer may make the viewer think that this ape somehow ties into when humans sent a monkey into space before we went up and it may have brought something back to Earth that would harm us, but there is more to it than that.
Nope gives movie history explaining the story of Eadweard Muybridge, the British photographer who took the first moving pictures of a black man on a horse and ties that series of images to our main characters explaining that the brother and sister we meet who run the horse ranch in California are the descendants of that jockey. Nope also delivers black history that corresponds with cinema history by stating that black people were working in the movie business from the very beginning. Daniel Kaluuya is OJ Haywood (short for Otis Junior) and Keke Palmer plays Emerald Haywood. They are a brother and sister who could not be more opposite. OJ is a quiet, thoughtful, strictly business kind of guy and Emerald is a showy extrovert. Keke Palmer gets caught overacting in some earlier scenes as a loudmouth ne’er-do-well to contrast Daniel Kaluuya’s stoicism but it comes off as forced.
Moreso than Jordan Peele’s other movies, Nope has gorgeous anamorphic widescreen cinematography that captures the natural aesthetic beauty of rural California. This ties into the themes of the movie as Nope turns out to be a story of man vs. nature and trying to tame a predator that cannot be domesticated. That connects us back with the ape from the beginning along with balloons and things that float away in our atmosphere. Humans have long used animals and nature for our own entertainment and every so often we need a reminder that we cannot control nature nor can humans control what we do not fully understand.
Nope also has impressive visual effects that never become the centerpiece of the action but instead enhance the performances, story, and themes, something that is not often common in many of todays big budget pictures. Nope may feel like a detour away from the thriller elements and social commentary Jordan Peele has become known for, but this movie has his signature all over it with its humor and homages to movie history, black history, and minority players who up until recently did not get the respect they deserved in the movie business.