Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Thirty-One

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#31 — Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

A common failing of first-time feature directors is a tendency to put every last notion they have into a film that can’t possibly hold them all. The opportunity to make a full-length movie is so rare and elusive that an understandable urge to pile in inventive techniques, themes, motifs, and other elements out of the belief — or fear, more precisely — that there won’t be a second chance. The cool trick shot that has been dreamed about for ages in wedged into the film, whether it does the duty of enhancing the narrative, or the scalding social commentary is slipped in edgewise, even if its is combat with other storytelling components. Perhaps that’s the core reason Jordan Peele’s Get Out feels like such a movie miracle. It is crammed to the sprocket holes with ideas without becoming toppling over from imbalance. It marvelously coheres, giving it a resonant power that feels like it’s revolutionarily discovering and conveying the social problems it identifies.

Melding horror with satire in a manner that accentuates the commonality between the two forms, Peele’s riveting film ruminates on prejudice and appropriation, police harassment and liberal virtue signaling. It makes it abundantly clear that a black man in the U.S. is always defined and understood first — and often exclusively — by the color of his skin and all the false assumptions fostered by ages of bad history. That doesn’t maintain entirely as bigotry and hatred. The eager ingratiation of announcing the desire to case a third ballot for Obama is just are surely an act of sorry reductionism. And, the film lays out clearly, the fumbling kindness of white people who are ostensibly allies is its own insidious deception, a trap concealed in a hug.

Peele infuses his film with a remarkable energy while remaining relaxed enough in his approach to give every contributor space to make a mark. A seasoned performer, Peele is especially generous to the actors, leading to skilled, impactful performances across the cast, especially Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, and Betty Gabriel. Because there are levels of deception built into the story, many of the actors get the opportunity to play sharp pivots of emotion — or, in the case of Williams and Gabriel, diametrically opposed emotions at the same time — and Peele’s attentive camera captures their astonishing ingenuity.

Get Out often feels like a movie executing a critical mission. But it achieves this without the stultifying self-importance that so often dooms features about race relations, even those with a more insurrectionist spirit. It booms with the thrilling possibility of cinema, where the right creator can prove that there can never be too many ideas.

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