Movie review: Jordan Peele is on a roll with mysterious 'Nope'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 19 2022 03:00 PM

A scene from 'Nope'
A scene from 'Nope'

OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Parker) Haywood had inherited the sprawling ranch of their father, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David), who was killed in a freak accident involving a coin that fell down from the sky. As they encountered financial woes at the ranch, OJ grudgingly sold their trained horses to nearby Jupiter's Claim, a small cowboy-themed amusement park owned by Korean-American ex-child actor Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun). 

One night, while OJ was out patrolling the ranch, he encountered a strange object moving in the sky. Its presence would cause horses to react wildly and the power in various electrical and other devices around to fluctuate and turn off. To document the phenomenon, the siblings go to the local Frye's Electronic store the next day to invest in camera equipment, which the friendly salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) helped set up. 

The two previous films by Jordan Peele, "Get Out" (2017) and "Us" (2019) both had deeper messages of race and societal behavior in them. In comparison, "Nope" told a pretty straightforward story of an alien being in the sky terrorizing the people below. Race did not seem to be an issue here. The Haywoods just so happened to be African-American folk, but this story could have happened to anyone in that area under which the alien lurked. 

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The characters were interesting and the actors playing them made them very likable. OJ and Em have totally contrasting personalities -- Daniel Kaluuya's OJ was glum and tight-lipped, Keke Parker's Em was effusive and gregarious. Kaluuya's unique facial features, especially his piercing eyes, looked perfect for the eerie and mysterious atmosphere of this film. Parker's energy kept the mood always up especially in the slow-burn, talky first act.

Steven Yeun's Jupe Park had a traumatic backstory that was only tangential to the alien story, yet prominently featured, as he used this old experience of his to keep himself relevant and profitable. 

A scene-stealing role was that of Angel Torres, played by up and coming Filipino-American actor Brandon Perea. He had a strong screen presence, winsome charisma and sense of humor which should earn him more high-profile roles in the future. 

The technical aspects of this film were its best draw. The cinematography by the acclaimed Hoyte Van Hoytema ("Interstellar," "Dunkirk," "Tenet") was beautiful and breathtaking capturing the vast cloudy skies. The film editing by Nicolas Monsour ("Us") worked with the music of Michael Abels ("Get Out," "Us")) effectively evoked a sense of danger, dread and excitement during the scenes with the alien. 

Jordan Peele strangely began the whole film with an unsettling incident of a chimpanzee gone amuck in a film set, returning to give more details about it only by the second act. This issue of animal actors was also tackled in an incident when one of OJ's horses acted up in a commercial set involving cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) and actress Bonnie Clayton (81-year old "Knot's Landing actress Donna Mills). 

Peele paid tribute to the art of filmmaking itself here. He cited Eadweard Muybridge's 1884-85 photographic study of animal movements called "Animal Locomotion," a progenitor of motion pictures, when Em claimed that the jockey on the galloping horse in "Plate 626" was their ancestor. He put Holst's old, bulky, hand-cranked film camera side by side with Torres' new sleek digital camera. Just too bad we did not see the movies they captured. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said.

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