Taking a modern populist utterage and turning it into a film title is risky. Dude, Where’s My Car? isn’t a title that is likely to grab many zillenials to its zeitgeisty idiocy. Clueless – for all its charms – is loaded with dialogue that may as well be in a time capsule.
Perhaps aware of this, director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) points his themes backwards in a movie about the danger of not addressing the threats that descend upon you.
What Is Nope About?
Nope stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as the Haywood siblings, inherited owners of a generations long horse training ranch that provides steeds to Hollywood productions.
After their father is killed by a freak airborne debris incident, Otis (Kaluuya) is forced to sell some horses to local western theme park owner Jupe (Steven Yeun, Minari).
This stay of execution is short-lived though, as some of Otis’ other horses start to disappear amongst strange noises and fluctuating electrical interference.
Peele’s latest movie is one that can be taken at face value or mined for subtext. Nods to the history of cinema – both as spectacle and as an exploitation machine – are all there.
From former child actor Jupe turning past trauma into financial gain, to the Haywood’s unacknowledged legacy of early ground-breaking ‘footage’ of a horse-riding black man, Nope is littered with examples of the Hollywood mechanisms sucking people up and spitting them out.
Nope Official Trailer
Is Nope Worth Watching?
At face value Nope provides uneven entertainment. Kaluuya plays Otis as so downbeat that he registers as monotone for large chunks of the movie.
His mumbling morose nature is at odds with the exuberant enthusiasm of sister ‘Em’ (Palmer) but such friction never ignites into performative fire.
Hints at sibling irritation are quickly swept away once bafflement, investigation, and commercial considerations around the central mystery are at play.
Similarly, a garrulous tech salesman (Brandon Perea) seems shipped in specifically to give the dialogue some energy, but stands out like a sore thumb because of it.
Even Steven Yeun is given barely any scenes to make his stamp and it's to his credit that he can communicate so much conflicting emotion with what little time he has, as he profits (and fails to learn) from his past horrors.
Nope has little interest in its characters beyond symbolic gestures.
People aside, Peele crafts a hugely entertaining movie that is just waiting to swoop on down. All the promotional material shows eyes pointed at the sky, and when the truth descends Nope cashes in all its ‘spectacle’ chips. The driving force for the story is a fully cinematic one both in presentation and subtext.
Nope is comfortably Peele’s most high energy movie and most expansive; the screen is stuffed with glorious wide shots calling to the western genre ideal. Which makes it all the more fun when the classic and the modern angles start to duke it out.
From out of the churn spews fertiliser. Peele grinds up Spielberg gloss with Blumhouse grit and mixes in the catalyst of Hollywood commentary to result in a uniquely fertile playing ground.
The people may be merely blips, endlessly repeating, but the larger forces of Nope remain inexorable.
Words by Mike Record
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