Jordan Peele’s ideas need more time in the oven

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | July 28, 2022

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3 out of 5

Here’s some ‘inside baseball’ for you: when a critic calls a film as ‘interesting’, it means the movie isn’t good but has some elements worth paying attention to. Phantom Thread is interesting. Boring as cold toast, but Daniel Day-Lewis is in fine form.

I’m here to tell you Nope is interesting. Its combination of appealing ingredients fails to come together in a meaningful form, but it’s a nice change from the usual big screen stuff.

Set in a horse ranch in inland California, Nope opens with a rain of metal that kills the owner, a horse rancher and animal wrangler (Keith David, who can’t catch a break in genre movies). His kids, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), take over. Also there’s a UFO in the area, which might be responsible for their dad’s death. There are also random blackouts, and… a theme park. OJ has no people skills and Emerald is too scattered to be trusted, so in no time the business is in trouble.

In desperate need of money, Emerald hatches a plan: capture quality footage of the flying saucer, sell it to Oprah for a fortune, wham, bang, Bob’s your uncle. But the flying saucer refuses to collaborate. In fact, it seems to take efforts to profit from it personally.

There’s a side plot tangentially related to the main storyline that I found much more compelling. Let’s just say it’s about a tiger going full tiger (not literally) and it underlines the film’s main points about the dangers of exploiting predators for entertainment sake, as well as the fickle nature of show business. One day you’re on top of the world, the next you’re the star of an urban legend. Stop. The. Presses.

Nope suggests Jordan Peele might be struggling to live up to his own hype. Get Out was a stone-cold gem, effective at a plot level and subtext (woke racism is still an uncomfortable subject). Us didn’t come close (“Hands Across America”, really?) and lacked the conceptual clarity of his opera prima.

There’s plenty of half-baked ideas in Nope that could have used some development. At best, it’s a rip-off of Jaws, but in the sky. Maybe it’s time to bring a co-writer into the fold. As you’ve come to expect from the latter half of Key and Peele, there’s always room for comedy and pop culture, but this mix feels forced.

This is not to say there’s nothing in the film worth your money. The cinematography carries the movie at times. Director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema (Christopher Nolan’s go-to guy since Interstellar) does wonders with colour in a barren environment (two words: tube men), and helps Peele create the most original flying saucer since V.

The other standout is Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan Peele’s Get Out hero. The Oscar winner for Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the few performers who is interesting when he’s doing nothing. His character, OJ, is an introvert but you can see seismic activity beneath the surface.

One thing Peele does that irks me is peppering the film with semiotic crumbs: the OJ name, the orange hoodie Kaluuya wears toward the end, the horses’ names. More than well-thought-out, subtle associations, they feel random at best — or cheap tricks designed to make you believe there’s more to Nope than meets the eye. In my opinion, nope.