When I first saw Get Out, I was blown away. The film not a masterpiece by any means, however to think the guy from Key & Peele produced something so well thought out and directed was amazing.
In his first movie, Jordan Peele (Little Fockers) displayed a very deft hand for how to make good, fun cinema - themes present in every scene, a script with almost no fat that's rich with symbolism and thrills!
I was so excited to see what he'd do next. . . then he made Us - which was just a less funny ripoff of the "Bart has an evil twin named Hugo" episode from The Simpsons Tree House of Horror VII (1996). I hated Us so much that it forced me to question whether or not Get Out was a fluke.
Purchasing a ticket to Peele's latest writer/director offering, Nope, was a leap of faith for me - one that I think, was worth the effort.
This does not mean that the film is great, or even better than just "fine". Not unlike his first two films, Nope is heavy with social commentary - this time it's just film-industry specific.
At times throughout the film, I was as annoyed as I was when I saw The Artist - a film so in love with itself and the movie industry that it may as well have been 2 hours of Jean Dujardin performing oral sex on himself.
Hollywood is never more up its own ass than when Hollywood makes movies about its own greatness and how there's no place as magical as Hollywood.
Like all liberal institutions though, Hollywood wants to have its cake and it too. While maintaining an air of self-importance, they also love to make self-flagellation arthouse dramas about how Hollywood is secretly awful.
Hollywood is an industry built on exploitation. Nope plays on that theme to structure its story - with the film's main characters being descendants of the first man to appear in a motion picture: a black jockey. The characters claim that no one knows the jockey's or even the horse's name.
Jordan Peele is fast and loose with the facts here as, in reality, the man riding the horse (a running mare named Sallie Gardner) in the original cabinet cards used for the first motion picture was named Gilbert Domm and certainly appears to be white. The footage used by Peele in Nope appears to be from a different series of photos taken ten years after the original and later animated in 2006.
A little historical revisionism here and there to make your movie have the message you want is okay.
While Nope does not reach the heights of Get Out, Jordan Peele has not lost his touch with re-enforcing his themes in nearly every scene of his films. Peele starts Nope with logos and dialogue from a 90s sitcom, then we cut to a birthday hat wearing chimp in children's clothes, covered in blood and wandering around an abandoned TV set with a dead body nearby.
Peele pays off this narrative choice later on, when we're shown the full scene and learn that the chimpanzee was the main character of a family sitcom 25 years-ago and snapped when a helium balloon popped during a taping.
It turns out that the chimp bludgeoned to death two actors who played the parents on the show, while ripping the face off of the actress who played the daughter.
The police then shoot the chimp in the head, right in front of the child actor who played the son while the chimp was attempting to simply fist bump with him.
The matter-of-fact beating, the tension, the violence all serve to create an effective horror scene - the most effective one in the film, to be frank. The scene is perfect encapsulation of Peele's theme: the Hollywood machine tortures a chimpanzee for years, leads the chimp down a path towards carnage, is shocked by the seemingly inevitable conclusion of its behavior and then disclaims all responsibility for the collateral damage done to the actors.
That's the nature of Hollywood - anything for the picture, the show must go on.
Even some shitty sitcom on ABC.
The image of a wild animal in human clothes chasing a man in a Hawaiian shirt and beating him to death is a haunting image. It is far and away the best scene in Nope.
But: that scene doesn't matter to the plot of the film. It is simultaneously an encapsulation of the themes and the problems with the movie.
For all of Jordan Peele's demonstrated mastery of theme, tonal consistency and plot still elude him. Characters often just do things without apparent motivation, in effort to move the story along. Other times, characters show up out of nowhere, out of pure coincidence, in effort to move the story along. One character goes full Captain Ahab and gets himself killed for no reason other than to service Peele's themes rather than his plot.
I can't call this a bad movie. I enjoyed it, even if I rolled by eyes when the Asian Cowboy called the monster "The Viewers". There are some great sequences and visuals at work here, but the film is not greater than the sum of its parts.
While the film is only just "fine", it does just enough to serve as evidence that Jordan Peele probably has another great movie in him somewhere, some day.
Performances: Daniel Kaluuah (Johnny English Reborn) is subtle, sublime and resigned here.
Score: Eh, its fine.
Cinematography: Peele scored Hoyte Van Hoytema, Christopher Nolan's frequent Director of Photography, for this film - so it looks very good.
Length: The film is probably 30 minutes too long, but never feels like it drags.
Final Score: 6/10