'Nope' Shows That Jordan Peele Is No One-Trick Pony

Directed by Jordan Peele

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David

Photo courtesy of IMAX / Universal Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 22, 2022

The marketing campaign for Nope gave us little to no indication what Jordan Peele's third film was going to be about beyond the cast and a cloud. But even so, throw away any preconceived notions you may have about Nope — it's not what any of us expected, for better and for worse.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play two siblings, OJ and Emerald "Em" Haywood. They are descendants of the Black jockey depicted in Eadweard Muybridge's 1878 proto-film The Horse in Motion and run a horse ranch inherited from their father, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David). Haywood Sr. was a horse wrangler for film and television productions in Hollywood, and OJ is struggling to carry that torch amid financial challenges and his general lack of social aptitude. When OJ and Em begin witnessing curious movements in the sky, the two set out to capture the phenomena on camera. 

Kaluuya and Palmer are perfect foils for one another. In a different role for Kaluuya, he plays a very subdued introvert. OJ doesn't speak often and employs the same deadpan face for the bulk of the film, resulting in a very quiet performance that may be mistakenly regarded as dull or inconsequential. Kaluuya's stoicism is what gives room for Palmer's extroverted, charisma-oozing Emerald. Palmer earns a lot of the laughs in the film, and also shows some range in the final act of the film; this is a really great and commanding performance from her.

In two smaller supporting roles, Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott both shine and add to the film in unexpected ways. The most interesting character in the film, though, is Ricky "Jupe" Park, played by Steven Yeun – the owner of Jupiter's Claim, a Gold Rush-themed amusement park neighbouring the Haywood ranch. Jupe is a former child star with a truly horrific backstory that plays out in some of the most anxiety-inducing scenes in the film. And although Yeun is great in the role, there isn't much for him to work with. Beyond a quiet moment of dazed reflection with Jupe (which is an excellent shot), we don't receive much payoff from his story, and that's a real shame.

Similar to Christopher Nolan movies, the main star of Jordan Peele films is Peele himself. Get Out and Us affected audiences on a cerebral level, and where those two films were smaller think pieces, Nope is an all-out Hollywood event. Nope is the first of Peele's movies to be shot using IMAX cameras, and he uses that extra space effectively. Along with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Nope gorgeously captures the vast plains of California, emphasizing the diversity of the land and its breathtaking scope. Coupled with a sound design that has the depths of your soul feeling the pounding of horse hooves on dirt roads and anguished screams from the sky, Nope is a spectacle — something we haven't really seen from Peele before.

This isn't to say, though, that Nope is all flash and no substance. The film wrestles with some interesting themes — but they just might not be the themes you'd expect from Peele. The entirety of Nope is a meta-contradiction. This film, shot on IMAX cameras and 65 and 35 mm film, presents our crippling reliance on digital technology while touting analogue as dependable and steady. Nope, Peele's most visually rich and striking directing effort to date, asks us to consider our society's obsession with always having eyes on what we do and create, and our desperation to document every event as an occasion. 

Nope admittedly doesn't hit quite as hard as his previous films, and while it isn't fair that we continually measure Peele's incoming work against his past, it's impossible not to compare them. Thematically, Nope is interesting but won't incite prolonged interest or discussion like Get Out did. And while it's interesting to see Peele attempt a plot-driven film, we lose out on having interesting characters to meet and understand, as in Us. Peele has built a reputation that he almost bristles against in this movie. Rather than revisit familiar waters, he forges ahead on a new stream. 

What Peele demands of us in Nope is to not consider him a one-trick pony — even if that pony has been lauded as highly intelligent, sophisticated and genre-defining. The film gives Peele the opportunity to show the range of tools he possesses. Some people may be disappointed in Nope because of their expectations for what a Peele movie "should" be. But if you leave your assumptions at the stable gates, Nope is a trip worth savouring.

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