Get Out

GetDirector: Jordan Peele

Screenwriter: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, and Stephen Root

I know the fervor and ballyhoo over Get Out has all but passed, but in accordance with the lessons the film teaches, sometimes it’s good to be late to the party. Get Out is one of the stand out stories of cinema this year. With a budget of around $4 million and written/directed by comedian and first-time film-maker Jordan Peele, Get Out is one of the most profitable films of the year!

You may be more familiar with Jordan Peele as one-half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, which is precisely what makes it so delightfully unexpected that his comfort with writing, direction, and horror would be so spot on! Still when one examines the tone, subversive content, and perspective that Key & Peele took on society in their skits, one shouldn’t be too surprised that Get Out was rattling around in there somewhere.

Inspired by midnight horror titles like Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives, Get Out is the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black budding photographer invited by his White girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet the parents. It’s a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the modern day, in that Rose has neglected to mention to her parents that Chris is Black, and this makes Chris slightly uncomfortable. Rose’s family is quite affluent and given Chris’s experience in such matters, he finds reason to believe they may not take an immediate liking to their inter-racial relationship. Rose’s progressive attitude clams his nerves, however, and off they go to her parents’ Southern (of course) estate.

At first Rose’s parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) are rather disarming, but soon Chris begins to have a funny feeling about the way people are acting on the estate. To say more could be getting into spoiler territory, but we can talk in generalities and non-specifics. On the surface we have a very traditional mystery horror film, but beneath the surface we have a far more palatable commentary thanks to an allegorical wave of symbolism driving our interpretations. This is a film to be both watched and observed. Passing references, recurring motifs, wardrobe and costumes, even the way a certain person eats a certain cereal is all relevant to truly understanding what Jordan Peele is trying to do here.

The metaphorical level is Get Out’s most successful level, and that takes it pretty far. This is likely the reason for its immaculate reception by audiences and critics alike. It is also groundbreaking in that it is the first $100 million film by a Black writer. However, objectively as a film it is an homage to a genre with clever use of convention. It is not a groundbreaking film, and it is not necessarily even the best horror film I’ve seen in the past year, but it’s a good movie, and there’s little to quibble about. You may not be that surprised by the twist or really much of the action in the film. Like I said, the majesty and success of this movie rests in the details. That being said, it’s even worth a re-watch to notice Peele’s intricate touches. Everything’s a clue from the car in the opening scene to the music in the closing credits. Manage your expectations, but this is above average fare with flares of brilliance here and there. Peele has a bright future as a film maker, no doubt about that! B

Get Out is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Captain Phillips

ImageIn the opening scene of Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks’ character, Rich Phillips, has a frank conversation with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) while they drive to the airport.  As a teacher, I took special note of this conversation, as it pertained to Phillips’ concern regarding his son’s performance in school.  He tells his wife that he’s worried that the world is far more competitive than it used to be and that even putting in the minimum is not enough to rise above and have a chance at success.  I’ve delivered various versions of this message to my high school students and while this conversation stood out to me for a different reason than it will to many other theatergoers, this seemingly innocuous scene sets the tone for a far more substantial and contextual film than I had expected. 

Adapted from Richard Phillips’ memoir, Captain Phillips tells the somewhat well-known true story of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Spring of 2009.  The surprisingly rapid turnaround between original incident and major film production speaks volumes to the merits of the story.  The film presents a form of “bio-pic” that forgoes the melodramatic retelling of fact, and instead uses real life to make a statement, in this case about globalization.  Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum), aims his “shaky” camera not only at the heroic protagonist, but also at what leads these Somali pirates to take such risky action.  By the time the pirates board Phillips’ ship, we are thoroughly disturbed and authentically frightened for what they may be capable of doing to take over the vessel.  The four pirates are meticulously realized through some menacing bilingual performances by a group of first-time Somali actors.  As the film unfolds, their story and motivations are every bit as fascinating and gripping as those of Phillips and his crew.  Phillips’ opening conversation with his wife about the stresses of competition and the vanishing opportunities for those less fortunate becomes realized as we see this despair front and center.    

Tom Hanks is sure to earn an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film.  In fact, this may be the performance of his career, certainly his best since Philadelphia.  His pragmatic performance is captivating, and he is never over-the-top.  In a scene where Muse, the lead pirate, invades the cargo ship’s control room, Phillips squares off with the pirates for the first time.  Hanks responds to this scenario so well and so realistically that it is easy to forget that this is a movie and not real life.  As the film goes on, Hanks tempers his performance for every new development culminating in a scene towards the end that is nothing short of brilliant, heartbreaking, and stirring.

Captain Phillips is another great movie for 2013.  While the story is still relatively current and many film-goers will be aware of its outcome, Greengrass, Hanks, and the supporting cast ensure a thrilling experience.  The film also works on a deeper level by examining the motives of the pirates and theorizing about some of the policies that should, perhaps, be revisited regarding freighter security measures and the “acceptable” risks that are taken for the sake of transporting goods overseas.  The film resonates with vivacity but Hanks’ performance is the film’s true strength.  A-

Captain Phillips is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.