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'Nope' is a huge leap forward for Peele as a filmmaker

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The new alien movie by Jordan Peele, with the simple title, Nope, opened last weekend to $44.4 million. It was the biggest opening for a non-sequel or adaptation since Peele’s last movie, 2019’s Us. The guy can open a movie.

And it’s no wonder why—he’s an intelligent director who has a lot of big ideas, and he knows how to please and frighten a crowd, and how to say something while doing it. And while he was already doing pretty well, Nope looks like a huge leap forward for Peele as a filmmaker.

It stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as a pair of siblings who run a horse-wrangling business in Hollywood. They live on a ranch outside of town, with little else around other than a Wild West theme park owned by Steven Yeun. They begin to notice some strange things happening, including the disappearance of some of their horses, and before long it’s pretty clear there’s… something in the sky. And, whatever you think this something is, you’re not quite right.

Of course, there’s a lot, lot, lot more to it—the movie is thematically rich, especially when you consider what motivates each character, and much of it is very open to interpretation. You can try to tease out the meanings, or not. Either way, the movie is wildly entertaining. It’s been referred to by more than a few people as “Spielbergian,” and this isn’t a stretch. Peele’s ability to ratchet up the tension and thrill us with action set pieces is exceptional. He knows how to misdirect our attention and consistently surprise us, and also how to give us exactly what we expect at strategic moments, to maximum effect. He and his cinematographer use the sky and the land to make the film grand and epic, despite a minimal number of locations and cast members, and they know the power of making us look deep into the night.

And here, I’ve barely said a thing. Nope is full of ideas and wonders, and is just a heck of a good time, to boot. If we didn’t already recognize Jordan Peele as a major talent, we can’t deny it now.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.