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Nope

Year: 2022
Studio: Universal
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, Steven Yuen, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Keith David

Like a dutiful moviegoer I've gone along to all Jordan Peele's films because they're original, different and represent the kind of movie they 'don't make any more' (which they say a few times a year when a movie like this comes out) to do my bit keeping original screen stories alive and viable.

But to be 100 percent honest I want to like his work a lot more than I actually do. There have been so many great ideas and images in Get Out, Us and now Nope I wish he'd re-edit them to be just a bit more narratively coherent. He's got the same desire a lot of filmmaker have not to spoon feed the audience, but like with a lot of directors that just means too many Lynchian elements that don't mean anything but seem to be included just because he liked them.

Ordinarily that'd be perfectly forgivable, but directors as good as Chris Nolan have proven that you can challenge your audience and still make narrative sense. I don't know if Peele's talent just doesn't stretch quite that far or if he intends to obfuscate for some aesthetic reason, but a film with the visuals like those in Nope would be a creative triumph with a more robust story.

Because the visuals are amazing. With DP Hoyte van Hoytema (Chris Nolan's go-to guy, coincidentally) and an evocative location, Nope is the kind of thing that's not only very rewarding on the big screen but which you might want to watch over and over just for how exciting some sequences are.

I heard Peel talk about how one of his influences was the classic Spielberg era, and that's exactly what some of his visual ideas both homage and convey. Never mind an apparent flying saucer drifting silently through the clouds miles up, at one point the gang are watching footage of the sky in fast forward, all the clouds passing as normal except one – the stronghold the object keeps in one place to hide itself and which nobody's noticed. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

It's not too much of a spoiler to describe it as a UFO story since it's in the trailer, and the backbone of it is in the protagonists trying to figure out who controls the object or what it wants. They're brother and sister OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), running a horse ranch in the desert north of LA where they hire their animals out for movie and TV shoots. OJ is a lot quieter and more withdrawn, Keke the mouth behind the operation.

In an early scene while OJ and their father Otis (Keith David) are running things, there's a sudden rain of metallic objects from the sky that shower the ground like bombs, upset their horses and kill Otis when one strikes him in the head. After mourning their father and putting him to rest, OJ exhorts Emerald to step up and help him keep the ranch afloat.

One of their biggest chances seems to be Ricky Park (Steven Yuen), a former child TV star who runs a nearby Western theme park and is negotiating with the pair to buy their operation. His subplot is actually the first thing we see as a chimpanzee stands on the set of a hastily-abandoned TV sitcom, blood splattered everywhere and screams in the distance. It has no direct relation to the story but gives proceedings an effectively creepy dimension.

But there's something even more uncertain in OJ and Emerald's valley when what appears to be the source of the rain of objects reveals itself drifting between the clouds – a saucer-shaped object that seems to be simultaneously stalking and hiding from horse and human alike. With the help of local electronics store employee, Angel (Brandon Perea), and grizzled veteran cinematographer Antlers (Michael Wincott), OJ and Emerald become determined to document the spaceship – or whatever it is – and reap the financial rewards of proving the existence of UFOs.

The premise is great, the scenery and day-for-night photography is gorgeous and the action is incredibly well staged. I just found myself shaking my head a few too many times both figuring out what was going on and how the story arrived somewhere from where it had just been. The secret behind the object isn't as exciting as you want it to be and the way the characters understand it on the merest of clues turns out to be a very long bow to draw.

As you've also seen in the trailer, there are a lot of visual motifs like those colourful inflated tube men lined up along dusty desert roads, and Peels makes great use of having them all inflate or deflate as a handy marker for when the craft is nearby, but even when it was happening I was still confused about exactly how the thing's proximity was supposed to affect them.

And while I'll be the first one to stand up and applaud representation on screen, having the central protagonists talk with such extreme urban language might have been completely appropriate to their African American race, but during some conversations I literally couldn't decipher what they were talking about.

None of the above will stop me watching it again and when I do I'll be hoping the details and explanations are simply buried deeper than I could absorb during the first viewing.

If I were to review this movie again after a few more viewings I might breathlessly put Peele in the same class as Nolan. Or it might be that Peele is the creative successor more of George Lucas than Steven Spielberg – a great director and editor, only so-so as a writer.

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