Get Out (*****) is a throwback to another era


Get Out – 2017

Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring  Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery, Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson

The best thing Jordan Peele’s first film as director (and writer) has going for it is the soft racism of low expectations. People have blindly implied that the film is a study of racism in the liberal suburbs. While there are elements of racism peppered throughout, saying that it’s even half of what Peele is trying to accomplish is to assume everything a black director makes needs to be soaked in tales of racism woes. It is also completely missing the fact that this is a first rate thriller of epic proportions.

Chris (Kaluuya) is heading out of town to spend the weekend with his girlfriend of 4 (actually 5) months, Rose (Williams). There is a tension between them about the trip, because Rose is a white woman and Chris is a young black man. They have a conversation about this and eventually Chris is set at ease when Rose comes to his defense during an interaction with police on the way there.

Once there, the messages are definitely mixed. While her father awkwardly comes across as the liberal hipster guy who “definitely would have voted a third term for Obama,” there are enough signs around that things are definitely not as they should be. Peele is an expert at many levels here. While the peculiarities could be perceived as a racial tension between the folks who live and work there, they could also be explained away in an easy enough fashion as just people who are generally out of touch and a little goofy.

Through it all, Chris has interactions going back and forth with his friend Rod, a TSA agent who stayed back at home to watch the dog. After a strange interaction with Rose’s mother (Keener), Chris no longer has the desire to smoke, but has also begun to have strange dreams. What is going on with Chris? Just as  important, what is wrong with everyone else in Rose’s hometown?

The acting in the story is first rate.There is not one performance that doesn’t fit the mood of the story perfectly. Kaluuya is a British find who has been in enough things to be known, but not enough to be the household name that this film shows he deserves to be. His friend Howrey is delightful too, in a role that might be thankless or worse in an average thriller.

Williams shows some range as Chris’ girlfriend. How she navigates the changing situation for her boyfriend indicates someone of more depth than the role normally would entail. As her parents, Keener and Whitford work on every level. They are the people who are so smart and well off, they would be impossible to want to spend any time with even if they did like you, which it seems like they don’t. Or do they?

As somewhat strange servants in the house, Gabriel and Henderson provide the strongest current of feeling in the house. What the hell is with these two, who seem so happy and sad all at once? They provide the biggest scares just by making eye contact.

Peele shows himself to be a master of suspense in a nearly Hitchcockian way. He strikes so many chords with just the right touch, it keeps the viewer in suspense. Even if they think they know some of what is going on, there are enough elements, you won’t catch everything. This is the work of a truly skilled craftsman. I cannot wait to see what he does on his own in the future.

If you like mysteries, see this film. If you like character pieces, see this film. If you like playing against expectation, see this film. If you like being scared, see this film. If you like great movies, see this one.

(***** out of *****)


Keanu (***): Trouble with the cute stuff


Keanu – 2016

Director Peter Atencio
Screenplay by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens
Starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Tiffany Haddish, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Rob Huebel

I’ve tried keep up with Key and Peele. It’s alright, but I haven’t seen anything that kept me going back consistently. The first time I saw the commercial for Keanu, however, I knew we were in for something special. Absurdist comedy is hard to pull off. There are far more MacGrubers out there than there are Anchormans. It’s really hard to drag a sketch comedy out too, especially when the sketch makes its debut as a film. But it’s a kitten. How can one turn down a kitten?

Poor little Iglesias. As the baby cat of the minor boss Diaz, he scrambles at the conclusion of a massive gunfight brought on by the Allentown Boys. They kill Diaz last, after kissing the little kitten. Then, by the miracle of being at the start of the story, he escapes while the last blood is spilled and makes his way through much of Los Angeles until he ends up on Rell’s (Peele) doorstep.

Rell is depressed, after a breakup. His cousin Clarence (Key) has arrived to cheer him up. He finds Rell is out of his funk and back to doing what he loves: photography. The photos are varying poses of his new cat, now called Keanu, in movie scenes. As if we needed more reasons to love this little kitty.

Well, for reasons that don’t need to be explained, the cat is absconded. Rell and Clarence try the police, but all they get from them is a blanket. They have to give the blanket back, too. So guess who has to go into the drug underworld to get their cat back?

There are many story paths that feel bound to cliche in Keanu. All I can say is most of them are pleasantly surprising. We get to see a lot of crap we’ve seen in other fish out of water stories, but Peele and co-writer Rubens are too smart to let the viewer step on the same rakes we’re used to seeing in other films.

There is nothing here I want to see again, other than that damned adorable cat. There is a little too much inconsequential violence to become a comedy classic, but it’s definitely worth a look for the older kids in the family. It’s easy to appreciate the comedy duo taking an unexpected first step for their first feature film. The cost of failure is not much. The benefit of breaking slightly ahead like they do means they likely will get another shot.

(*** out of *****)