Jordan Peele’s third feature film Nope is just on the horizon and I thought, what better time than now to revisit the previous two films in his already impressive filmography? So, without further ado, here we go. My reviews for the previous hit (and kind of miss) Jordan Peele movies – Get Out and Us.
[Potential spoilers below for both Get Out (2017) and Us (2019)]
Get Out: much more than meets the eye
I think people, at least in casual circles, far too often fail to give Get Out the credit it deserves. People see Black protagonists and White antagonists and they say, “oh the movie is about racism.” Yes, obviously, but that’s dumbing it down to an incredibly shallow analysis when this movie just has so much nuance to offer.
The Armitages aren’t just backwoods hicks who hate Black people and lure them in to unceremoniously kill them, it’s not about that kind of racism. It’s about the kind of racism that white people might not notice if it wasn’t pointed out to them.
The movie makes that fairly clear, too. Through multiple points in the movie, when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) rightfully complains about the weird things going on, Rose just dumbs down whatever he’s saying down to its most absurd level and then mocks him for it. And every single time, he’s the one left apologizing, feeling like he’s offended her for being rightfully uncomfortable about real stuff.
Rose (Allison Williams) also constantly rants about things her family does to Chris, and he’s just numb to it to the point of predictability. She represents a form of performative activism; someone who would constantly preach to a Black person about how frustrated they are with the injustices in the world (something she may only do because she thinks he likes it), but the eventual reveal of their true self is not that of an ally.
What makes Get Out so rewatchable
Beyond the complex thematic elements of the story, there’s also a level of attention to detail that makes rewatches incredibly rewarding. The first time we meet Chris while he’s in his apartment (Black man putting white shaving cream on his face), the movie plays “Redbone” by Childish Gambino. A song that warns to “stay woke” and beware of people “creeping.” A warning for Chris of the events yet to come.
Watching this movie over and over again is a breeze and every time you watch you’ll realize something else. For instance, Chris was freed by picking the cotton out of the chair, Rose separates her white milk from her colored cereal, and Dean says they kept “a piece of his mother” in their kitchen while Georgina stands right there. This movie has a brilliant script that only gets better every single time.
The movie is also excellently constructed and the movie just breezes past. The opening has great camera work that builds so much tension and sets the tone so well. The rest of the movie is structured in 3 chunks, pretty simple and classic. It’s a formula because it works, and this movie uses it to its full potential.
Splitting the chunks into distinct periods – Chris’s arrival at the Armitages, Chris at the “party,” and the final confrontation – gives the movie an excellent pace and a good sense of the passage of time.
My rating for this film:
★★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥♥
The movie is just great, top to bottom. One of the most impressive movies I think I’ve ever seen, just on an architectural level. Jordan Peele built something excellent and timeless here. Already an all-time classic in my books.
Us: ambitious, funny, scary, but doesn’t live up to its predecessor
Jordan Peele’s 2019 film Us, sadly, fails on multiple levels. It almost feels like everything is the complete polar opposite of the film that came before it. The script is poorly constructed, the themes are muddled, and the execution of the whole thing feels clumsy and hamfisted.
Peele took a big swing, and ambition is often met with criticism if not executed with great finesse. However, I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is completely unenjoyable. It’s just that, alongside Peele’s 2017 Academy Award-winning Get Out, it’s a noticeable step-down.
The highest peak of Us is the cast, no contest. Lupita Nyong’o delivers an amazing performance. Even though I believe the twist only serves to hurt the film on a rewatch, the nuances in her performances are stunning.
Everyone else in the movie brings a necessary lightheartedness to the film. Winston Duke is hilarious, and possibly the most “dad” dad to ever dad on film. Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss’ couple is an addition to the film that feels like an excuse to stick a ton of hilarious stuff into the movie, and it WORKS. They are genuinely hilarious. Not only do I think this movie is scarier than Get Out, but I also think it’s funnier. I think the script, as much of a mess as it is, deserves credit for that.
Where Us falls apart
The structure of this movie is a nightmare. The opening is great, and it’s a great hook that excites you for what’s to come. But the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it. It’s funny and it’s spooky, but it spends most of the movie just being that.
After the first act, it just spends time wandering around doing nothing but killing and laughing. Then once the final act comes, the movie unloads ungodly amounts of exposition to retroactively explain everything. Then, even after the climax and just before the credits roll, the movie drops another bit of information in the form of a twist that I think serves to make the movie worse on a rewatch.
The script just needed some tightening up, or maybe the edit needs to be shorter, but I wonder if the movie might crumble upon the weight of itself upon further tightening. The longer the whole runtime is, the less percentage of time the exposition dump at the end takes up.
The most unfortunate victim of this film’s issues is that of the theme, or should I say theme(s). This movie’s lack of focus, and lack of “tightness,” lends itself to interpretation. Sometimes that can be a good thing, like with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That movie spends a lot of time building a mood and building up tension that eventually boils over in the explosive finale. The wandering nature of The Shining leads to interpretation within the bounds of its story and world. Typically the question is “was Jack possessed or not?” It’s a question that pertains to the specific story and ideas that The Shining introduces.
With Us, it feels far less intentional, and it feels like the “open for interpretation” nature of it is just a result of the film’s failure to pick a story and stick to it. They had the doppelgänger from the underground idea and then tacked on a full movie’s worth of exposition to the end because they forgot to fill in the rest.
My rating for this film:
★★★ / ♥♥♥½
The nuance of Jordan Peele’s Us & Get Out
Us isn’t a bad movie. It’s an undeniably enjoyable watch. It’s funny, and it’s spooky, but it’s clumsy. You’ll have fun, but you’ll probably feel confused coming out of the other side. I appreciate the things that Peele tried to do with Us but Get Out just feels like a more satisfying time. It hooks you and you’re in for the ride the whole time, never doubting the direction for a second. “Pay for the whole seat, but you only need the edge.”
I truly believe Peele is a genius, and Us isn’t a stain on his resume or anything. If anything it’s a medal of honor. Peele’s not afraid to swing for the fences, even on only his second film ever. I’m excited to see where he goes with his upcoming story: Nope.
Nope. releases in theaters on July 22, 2022. It marks Peele’s third feature film in 5 years and a reunion between Peele and Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya. What do you think of Peele’s first two films? Comparing the two, which one is better? Let us know on Twitter!