Jordan Peele’s ‘NOPE’ is a Love Letter to Film and Makers (Review)

The approach to reviewing a Jordan Peele film is the act of allowing myself to actually gush over cinema that feels so rarely seen and felt nowadays. When the credits appeared at the end of Nope, I cried. I cried because this exists. I cried because I’m a Black filmmaker and there are Black filmmakers making movies like this during my lifetime. And the exquisite thing about Nope is I’m almost unsure how to gather words for what Peele did. This is a movie about movies and made for lovers of film. Metaphors and the nuances of the process of filmmaking are deep within Nope‘s crevices; it reminded me – lovingly – of the craft of pre-production and post-production.

But I was also emotional because, as a film buff, there were so many aspects to Nope that reminded me of other films but that were simultaneously unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. So many things that reminded me of movies in general but nothing specific at all. So many tropes but non-tropes. And so much inspiration from other movies while remaining true to its own vision. I want to study this film. With Nope, Peele showcases how we as artists can pay homage to the artists who birthed us without becoming a carbon copy of the original.

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Daniel Kaluuya and Jordan Peele on the set of NOPE. (COURTESY: Universal)

Nope tells the story of two Black siblings, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer), who train horses for Hollywood projects. The chance to make money from seeing a flying saucer in the sky provides not only the spectacle but the opportunity to make more money as well. However, OJ and Emerald might not have expected the thing in the sky to be as dangerous or as strange as it is. And with the help of Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and the intrigue of Rick ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun), things go awry. I’m hesitant to say more without spoiling the movie. The wonderful thing about Peele movies is the less that’s said, the more you get out of it.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer’s sibling dynamic works so well in this film. Recreating a close sibling relationship is difficult to do, and Kaluuya and Palmer’s work is among my on-screen favorites. Kaluuya’s performance is very internal – the opposite of his externality in Get Out, where his feelings and reactions were constantly on display. In Nope, Kaluuya felt grounded by context; OJ is both quiet and meditative and the result is acting turned inward. Black actors haven’t always been allowed to be internal on screen, so I very much enjoyed what seemed like Peele’s clear choice to have Kaluuya lean so heavily in this direction. Steven Yeun’s performance is spectacular as well. Although his part is small, his role is prominent.

And don’t get me started on Keke Palmer. Palmer is interesting because she has been meme-efied on the internet for years, and her personality is so vivid and bright it turns us parasocial. But Keke can act. And her real-life personality is distinctly different from her characters on film, which can be especially difficult for young actors to pull off. As regards Nope, there were a few moments that made me question what was left on the cutting room floor. Some backstory, in particular, could have been a tiny bit more developed, in order to create more of an emotional impact; that said, I still felt moved by these siblings and their relationship.

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Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood, Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood, and Brandon Perea as Angel Torres in Jordan Peele’s NOPE. (COURTESY: Universal)

Nope spreads numerous underlying themes and metaphors throughout its runtime. After viewing it, I realized Peele had made this film easily digestible while also leaving us with many layers to unfold. It would be very easy to overanalyze Nope; I choose not to. Too many reviews already do that. One beautiful thing about Peele’s features is you can overanalyze nothing at all, and instead receive them as they are. And despite comparisons to Spielberg – especially with direction, cinematography, and even score – I see more M. Night Shyamalan in Nope. (Interesting side note: audiences tend to compare Shyamalan to Peele because their first features are considered their masterpieces, but that’s another story for another time.)

However, despite similarities to other films, Peele’s remains purely his own. But seeing Nope with an audience felt reminiscent of when I saw that particular birthday party scene in M. Night’s Signs. There was such a visceral reaction toward it and several other specific scenes, and you can tell Peele wanted to create a similarly immersive atmosphere here.

Even with the immersive experience, there’s a slow-burn aspect to Nope. Peele creates a great sense of doom and gloom by taking his time to not only build tension but create a sense of urgency. Nearly everything in Nope subverts our expectations, which keeps us following the movie even when it slows down. Peele mentioned in a recent interview with AFI that one way to make a film suspenseful is to have nothing much happen, thus allowing your audience’s imagination to go wild. They know you’re headed somewhere.

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Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood and Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood in Jordan Peele’s Nope. (COURTESY: Universal)

And Peele knows how to create trust. Nope is a wild excursion even for the average Peele fanatic. There’s a weirdness to this film that feels so grounded in Peele’s complex mind, we have to trust him. At over two hours, the film is nowhere near short; towards the end of the third act, Nope did start to extend perhaps further than needed, and could have used a little tightening up in the last fifteen minutes. But I was nonetheless enthralled by what I was witnessing.

The best thing about Jordan Peele (and the scariest) is how much more room for growth he has as a writer as well as a director. Nope is a slight deviation from the thriller/horror genre of Get Out and Us, which begs me to question what we should next look forward to from Peele and his weird big brain.

Rating: 9/10

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