The Heywood family has been training horses for Hollywood movies since the beginning of the industry. The Heywood Hollywood Horse Ranch is now run by Otis Heywood, Sr. (Keith David) and his son Otis, Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya), also called OJ. Father and son are working in the training ring when the power goes out briefly and small objects fall from the sky at high speed. A nickel strikes Otis, Sr. in the head like a bullet, killing him. Emerald Heywood (Keke Palmer), also called Em, OJ’s sister, returns to the ranch after her father’s death to pick up her share of the estate, but there isn’t much to inherit. The ranch has fallen on hard times and OJ has been selling his horses little by little to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor that now runs a western town amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim. The random power outages continue and OJ sees something flying quickly, hiding among the clouds. He believes it’s a UFO that is causing the power outages and released the items that rained down killing his father. Em wants to buy digital cameras to catch the UFO on video and sell it to the highest bidder. The salesperson ringing them up also installs the cameras and control system is named Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and he wants to help the Heywood’s get “the Oprah shot.” They also contact award-winning cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) they met on a commercial shoot to improve their chances. OJ has a theory about what the flying object is and puts into place a plan to protect his family and ranch, hoping to survive the effort.
I’m not sure what’s going on in “Nope” other than what we see on screen. If it has a deeper meaning or social context, I have no idea what it might be. Unlike director/writer Jordan Peele’s other films (“Get Out” and “Us”), there doesn’t seem to be anything going on under the surface…and that’s fine. Not every movie must have a social context and “Nope” seems to be “what you see is what you get.”
It also contains story elements that have nothing to do with the UFO. There’s a throughline about a tragedy on the set of a 1990’s sitcom starring a young Ricky “Jupe” Park (played by Jacob Kim) that doesn’t tie back to the main story at all. Usually, seemingly random events in films eventually make sense within the main story. In “Nope,” they do not. Don’t look for meaning in these flashbacks. Just enjoy the carnage and violence they contain.
Daniel Kaluuya is once again brilliant. His OJ is a no-nonsense guy, trying to make his horse ranch work despite the sudden death of his father and a lack of help from his sister. He sees the world as it is, not as he wishes it to be. He also sees the UFO as another problem to be solved, if an unusual one. While he likes the thought of making money from any photos or video, OJ sees it as a means to an end. Sell the pictures and keep the ranch going. Kayuuya’s OJ is grace under pressure and gives the movie its emotional anchor.
Keke Palmer’s Em is like a photo negative of OJ. She’s looking for a quick and easy payday so she can get away from the ranch. It was never her dream to work it, shuns any notion of helping OJ with daily chores, but is interested in a possible sale to Ricky Park for some quick cash. Em is all emotion and what’s in it for her. Palmer makes what could have been a dislikable character utterly charming. We want both siblings to reach their goals, even if they are diametrically opposed, and that is thanks to the actors.
Brandon Perea brings a comic touch to Angel Torres. He’s bored in his job at a big box electronics store but perks up once he’s brought into the quest for evidence of extraterrestrial life. A believer in various conspiracy theories about UFO’s and espousing a fear of getting a probe up his behind, Angel brings an energy to what could have been a minor role makes it his own.
The opposite of energy is what Michael Wincott delivers as Antlers Holst. The world-weary cameraman doesn’t get excited about anything, including capturing evidence of UFOs. His expertise gives the Heywood’s a backup plan to keep filming despite the power drain the alien vessel causes. Wincott also delivers a creepy spoken-word version of “One Eyed, One Horned, Flying Purple People Eater,” just in case anyone finds him to be mundane. It’s a nuanced performance that serves the rest of the characters well.
“Nope” is rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images. The sitcom tragedy is shown in small snippets. While the scenes are bloody, there isn’t much in the way of gore. The aftermath of those events is shown on the face of one of the survivors. The death of Otis, Sr. is very bloody. The shot of his body afterward is also troubling. A rainstorm turns into a blood storm over the Heywood’s house. A character rolls down a hill and gets caught in barbwire fencing. A horse is shown with a key sticking in its body. Foul language is common throughout.
“Nope” doesn’t have the same kind of emotional impact “Get Out” does. It lacks the hopelessness of “Us.” Yet it still is an enjoyable and fascinating movie. Perhaps my wish for connection between the flashbacks to the 90’s sitcom and the current events is my need to have it all make cosmic sense. Perhaps that it doesn’t is why “Nope” is still at the front of my mind hours after the credits rolled. Perhaps you’ll find more meaning in it than I did, but I enjoyed the film just as a visual and auditory spectacle. If it’s available in your area, see “Nope” in IMAX or 4DX. I think the increased sensory input is worth the added cost.
“Nope” gets four out of five stars.
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