Jordan Peele is on his third movie, and we're already throwing around the word auteur. That's because he has a distinctive way of layering genre and social issues across his work, pulling apart race in modern society. The imagery he’s created with films like Get Out and Us is iconic, and a lot of it has to do with the way he uses close-ups. Peele has the uncanny ability to make us look deeper, and today I want to examine how his use of close-ups emphasizes that point.
Check out this video from CineFix,and let's talk after.
How Does Jordan Peele Compose His Close-Ups?
I am a massive fan of Peele. Through sheer happenstance, I was at the movie premiere of Get Out in Los Angeles. I walked in with medium expectations, and I walked out thinking about how I was witnessing the debut of a filmmaker I'd probably hear about for the rest of my life. As a fan of his follow-up, Us, and as someone who is rabidly waiting for the premiere of Nope, this is a fun article for me to write.
I think what sets Peele apart from other filmmakers working in the same space is not just his attention and care for story and theme, which should be lauded, but his grounded aesthetic and use of tried-and-true camera angles, which makes him feel like an almost classical filmmaker. Like Hitchcock, Spielberg, and even Douglas Sirk, Peele uses angles we are familiar with, particularly the close-up, and reinvents them to show things in a way we have never seen before.
Peele makes thrillers and horror movies. Inside them, we meet characters who are fearful. But when he comes into the close-up, he's able to pull so much empathy out of the audience. He doesn't use the angle just to freak people out, he uses it to get them to care. We grasp the fear because Peele loves actors. He gives them the ability to put their own flourishes on characters. And he spends early acts getting us to care about them. When the horror genre elements kick in, Peele uses close-ups to give power to their performance.
If Spielberg uses the dolly shot into a close-up to create wonderment, Peele has redefined it to create abject horror. We see this over and over again in Get Out and Us, where we have isolated characters now coming in close on their face to show how alone they are in an awful situation. We also get special attention placed on the eyes. They're super expressive and emotive, going closer than ever and making everything feel personal.
Of course, none of this would be possible with lesser actors. Peele puts a lot of effort into casting and often works with Daniel Kaluuya, who he likened to his Robert De Niro. These actors help carry their weight in the shots and deepen the theme around them.
What are some of your favorite Peele close-ups? Let me know in the comments.