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Nope Review: Watch The Skies

EDITORS' RATING: 9/10
Pros
  • Beautiful visuals
  • A fantastic cast
  • The story delivers the blockbuster goods while twisting tropes in interesting new ways
Cons
  • The third act leaves a few details a little too muddy, but not by much

Jordan Peele's career as a feature filmmaker is now three movies long, and already he's captured the same energy that directors like Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan managed to muster after their early breakthroughs. At this point, every Jordan Peele film feels like an event unto itself. That he's billed "Nope," his third feature, as the biggest movie of his career thus far, only heightens the sense that something Big is about to happen at your local theater.

If you go looking for answers as to how Peele reached this level of anticipation and energy so early in his career as a genre director, you'll usually get pointed to two things: His first two films are very good, and his movies are marketed while revealing as little of their biggest secrets as possible. Anecdotally around the internet, it seems film fans have latched on to the idea that Peele has found his own version of J.J. Abrams' grand Mystery Box theory, a strategy that convinces audiences that you don't need anything more than what the vague, evocative trailers are giving you. Or maybe, some argue, you don't even need the trailers. You need nothing other than Peele's name and the names of his considerable cast of stars to get you to the box office.

This is, of course, a point that's up for debate. It's undeniable that the mystery surrounding Peele's films has added a certain allure in the lead-up to their respective releases, but to pin the success of his high-concept thrillers on something as simple as preserving secrets is akin to pinning any success Shyamalan has had on whether or not the twists in his films work. It's a disservice to the pure filmmaking craft at work in these films when they're at their best, and while "Nope" might not be Peele's best, it is another dazzling achievement from the mind of one of our finest genre artists. And as if to prove that secrets and slowly unwrapping the puzzle box aren't all he has to offer, Peele's made this film his most conceptually straightforward yet. The result is a summer adventure blockbuster in the classic sense, a tremendous exercise in spectacle, and proof that Jordan Peele has only just begun to show us what he can do.

Skin in the game

Six months after losing their father in what seems like a freak accident, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) are trying to put the pieces back together at the family horse ranch in California. Emerald tries to use her promotional skill to recapture her Dad's old magic, reminding their Hollywood clients that they've had "skin in the game" of the movie industry since the earliest days of motion pictures. OJ's more interested in finding a way to buy back the horses he's sold off to a local former child star turned theme park mogul (Steven Yeun), and both siblings are feeling on the outs with each other as they both realize they may be facing an unsolvable financial dilemma.

Then they notice the mysterious shapes in the sky over the valley that holds their ranch, the strange sounds and electrical phenomena that seems to arrive whenever what looks like a flying saucer hovers overhead. With their backs against the wall, Emerald devises a scheme: Together, the Haywood siblings could capture the best evidence ever of alien spacecraft visiting Earth, with a little ambition and a lot of camera equipment. To pull it off, they turn to a local electronics salesman (Brandon Perea) and legendary cinematographer with an eye for the impossible (Michael Wincott) to make their dream come true. But the closer they get to the object in the sky, and the harder they push to get the shot, the more Emerald and OJ realize they're facing something even stranger than a UFO.

To say more would be to undermine the delicate way Peele builds this story, not because of simple plot spoilers, but because of the sheer craft that goes into establishing every piece of the film's tapestry. As with so much great thrillers, it's not so much what happens as it is how and why those things happen, and with "Nope," Peele has proven once again that he's a deliberate, thoughtful storyteller with lots of things to say in the margins of a story that once again delivers the genre movie goods.

Getting the shot

It's no accident that Peele chose a pair of showbusiness kids hoping to make their ultimate movie dream come true to lead this particular cinematic outing. For all its sci-fi horror dazzle, "Nope" is also a film focused with often ferocious intensity on the price of creating, of giving yourself over to creating a spectacle that will have an effect on another person. It's a deeply rooted theme running through the whole film, and yet it never feels self-congratulatory because Peele is ultimately less concerned with the price of art and more concerned with the human consequences of giving yourself over to some apparently extraordinary thing. Through OJ and Emerald, he manages to create a deeply satisfying beating heart pulsing within the UFO-driven spectacle, even as he peppers the film with child star stories and reminders that we are watching the story of people whose industry seems to have left them behind.

Then there's the sheer visual craft of the film, something Peele has grown better and better at executing with each new feature. "Get Out" looks wonderful, and "Us" features truly haunting visuals, but they both pale in comparison to the desert vistas and tightly controlled suspense of "Nope." It is Peele's most beautifully designed film, both in terms of the level of thought he put into the geography of each sequence, and in terms of the simply stylistic beauty that comes from a shot of a cloud at night, or a house in the middle of nowhere suddenly lighting up, or dozens of inflatable tube men dancing in the desert scrub. Some of the most unforgettable visuals not just of Peele's career, but of any movie you'll see this year, are lurking in "Nope."

Peele's absolute command of the environment he's built, his conviction that he should always pack in as much added substance as possible, and his towering cast anchored by great performances from Kaluuya, Palmer, and Wincott, all combine to make "Nope" into something truly special. Jordan Peele has become a modern day cinematic showman before our very eyes, imbuing each of his genre adventures with a sense of depth that means we can keep watching these movies for years to come. With "Nope," he has entered his blockbuster era, and no matter what he does next, one thing's for sure: Jordan Peele is just getting started.

"Nope" is in theaters on Friday, July 22.