Nope ★★★★½

Who's the last great gaffer you can name off the top of your head? What about animal performers (and/or trainers)? Cinematographers might be a little easier, but even then, outside of rabid cinephiles, the average Joe Six-Pack moviegoer probably isn't going to be able to rattle Hoyte van Hoytema off the top of their head. Yet these are the people who capture the impossible on film and make our dreams move like that first anonymous black jockey made a horse run for Eadweard Muybridge. When broken down to it's bare essentials, cinema is crafted by a legion of faceless artisans, all coming together to create things that others told them could probably never exist in the first place.

At it's core, this is what Jordan Peele's NOPE is about, even if it takes it's sweet time getting there. Since GET OUT, Peele has moved further and further away from easily digestible genre exercises, opting instead to splash bigger ideas onto larger canvases. For just as US largely revolves around the notion of "forgotten" clans in America as much as it does deadly doppelgangers, NOPE is using unidentified objects in the sky as a springboard to celebrate the below the line workers who try and photograph them for a split second, just so they can say they have something nobody else does: proof that the unreal is real. Like Ti West's X, it's a wildly ambitious 2022 thriller that doubles as a love letter to the art of movies; the Lovecraftian JAWS to that movie's porno TEXAS CHAIN SAW, only with Michael Wincott in the Quint role.

Yes, you read that right. People are undoubtedly going to toss around comparisons to Spielberg - more specifically CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, for reasons even the poster spoils - but NOPE has Bruce the Shark and Chief Brody to thank before it shakes hands with the anal probing aliens from FIRE IN THE SKY (though you don't even have to squint to see the reference to the Charlie Sheen extraterrestrial chase picture, THE WRAITH, Peele slides in with gleeful abandon). Sure, he fractures the narrative and even inserts a fairly wild subplot revolving around an unspeakable animal atrocity on the set of a mostly forgotten sitcom (outside of obsessive cultists, that is), but Peele knows exactly where his audience's bread is buttered and is replicating (with a pretty healthy success rate) the thrilling populist technique Spielberg rode all the way to the bank in '75. Because for all of his unwieldy ambition, Jordan Peele is a pure entertainer at heart, and wants his audience stumbling into the summer heat already out of breath and ready to tell all their closest friends to buy tickets to the next show.

Perhaps that's what's most thrilling about NOPE: the fact that it's a big studio blockbuster that values big ideas, big laughs, bigger set pieces, but also sees Peele continuing to flex his visual muscles in ways we probably couldn't even have guessed around the time of GET OUT (van Hoytema's IMAX frame is staggering at times). There was even a moment, when Peele got caught up rebooting classic TV omnibuses and big screen ghouls to middling results, that I started to wonder if he was spreading himself too thin for NOPE to live up to the expectations set by his previous two features. The fact is: NOPE might be his craziest, most experimental and electrifying work to date; a reminder that movies are made by those who take cameras out into the wild to try and preserve their imaginations in celluloid amber for everyone else to admire for the rest of recorded history.

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