Saturday, March 18, 2017

Get Out's Flat Out Brilliance

Movie Review: Get Out

Director: Jordan Peele

Reviewed: 18 March 2017

jamesintexas rating--****

Jordan Peele's masterpiece Get Out pushes all the right buttons in its suspense and build-up, ending up with one of the darkest endings in modern film while fully earning every scare along the way.  The film announces Peele as a writer and director of the first order, and Get Out resonates on many levels in our political and social climate in early 2017.  And, it is ridiculously hilarious at times along the way. 

After an unsettling opening scene of violence on an unknown character, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) travels to the rural estate of girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), meeting her family for the first time.  Chris, a budding photographer, leaves his dog with his friend Rod (LilRel Howery), who needles him about the potential pain of the weekend.  On the way, they hit a deer and also encounter hostility from a local policeman.  Upon arrival, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) welcome the couple warmly. Dean is a neurosurgeon; Missy, a therapist.  Although Chris has been warned by Rose, Dean slips into calling him "my man" and opining about how he wishes that he could have voted for "Obama's third term."  So far, Chris experiences the awkwardness and the weight of being the only African-American character in sight. But he is not.  There are two African-Americans working for the Armitage family: groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel). Both seem dazed and to regard Chris with some sort of hostility.  When a late-night smoke break turns into a spooky encounter with both, Chris, a bit shaken, wanders into a hypnosis session with Missy who uncovers buried-deep trauma in Chris's childhood while ostensibly trying to help him stop smoking.

Chris and Rose's weekend visit coincides with a party of sorts as old friends of the family pour into the lakefront estate to celebrate. Things begin getting increasingly more uncomfortable for Chris as he becomes the designated racial spokesman, finds his cell phone unplugged and out of juice, and wonders about blind gallery manager Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) who seems to know his work without having ever seen it.  A chance encounter with the only other African-American, a laconic Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) leads to the first recitation of the titular phrase.

To say more would be to rob Get Out of its earned scares, laughs, and power.  I just found this film to be captivating in every way, from the performances to the score to the slow zoom-ins used by Peele to heighten the anxiety level in nearly ever scene.  Kaluuya's performance ably captures the reactions of Chris to his shifting environment, and I was impressed with his anchoring performance.  I could not tell where it was going, and it inspired great dread in me as an audience member. I needed the relief of looking over at my wife next to me in the theater, as well as the relief valves provided by other audience members shouting at the screen and reacting viscerally to what was unfolding.  I imagine that seeing the film in a crowded theater would have intensified its power.  And LilRel Howery's performance is a true standout of comic timing and delivery.

The third act and stunning ending of the film pose myriad questions about cultural appropriation and destruction, the racial hegemony of our country, and the subversion of the police as trusted agent of the power structure.  In a move worthy of comparison to Alfred Hitchcock, Peele uses a final scene to critique the distrust and menace offered by a cultural signifier, now read differently.  Get Out never missteps, and it offers a cathartic way forward into 2017 and cinema that acknowledges the deep rooted societal micro-aggressions and racism, pressures, and powers that cannot and should not be ignored.  First and foremost, it is a film that entertains and upsets, horrifies and makes one think.  Jordan Peele cannot be ignored as a substantial voice in American cinema.

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