With the spotlight rightfully trained on Us, nobody is buzzing about Jordan Peele’s summer release: Pull Over. Thankfully I got an early screening. To say that the film is a masterpiece is accurate. But to say that it’s about racism? I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Let’s start with the double meaning of the film’s title: Pull Over. On the surface, the movie is about systemic racism, inherent bias in the American criminal justice system, and black people. In that regard, ‘Pull Over’ is something that police officers say. But the movie is also a thinly veiled retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. In that regard, ‘Pullover’ is something that Red wears.
Walk with me. We open in 1980s inner city New York. Our protagonist is Red, played by the inerrant Letitia Wright. Red is on her way to deliver cookies to her grandma when – you guessed it – she gets pulled over by a white man named Officer Wolf.
Red didn’t break the law, but Wolf takes her in for questioning. On their way inside, Red slaps Wolf across the cheek and finds that he’s wearing white face (another astonishing turn from Mahershala Ali). Even weirder is that Wolf isn’t aware of the makeup.
Red spends several hours being interrogated with only water to drink and no phone calls allowed. The montage of thought-provoking exchanges between Red and Wolf are heightened by her occasionally blacking out, experiencing deja vu, and having hallucinations. And so our journey into Jordan Peele’s savory rabbit hole begins…
After the interrogation, Red is free to leave. Begin Act Two, where we meet Grandma G, played with impressive maturity by Storm Reid (from A Wrinkle in Time). Grandma G seems incredibly out-of-sorts, not to mention unrealistically young, which Red points out immediately.
Red, still experiencing hallucinations, suspects that the police did something to Grandma G. Letitia Wright captures this inner turmoil with accuracy, and Storm Reid plays Grandma G with impressive maturity. Paranoia escalates into panic as Red questions Grandma G’s every move, each action reinforcing her suspicion that a deeper conspiracy is part of the plot.
Think you know where this is going? Then why are you reading this f***ing review?
Suddenly, a factory worker breaks into the house just as Red is about to stab Grandma G in the back. The worker’s name is Jack… Lumber Jack. A heaving rugged mass of hypersexuality played by Jamie Foxx, arguably the best casting choice of the director’s career.
Lumber Jack mansplains the plot to Red. Grandma G has early-onset dementia, hence her irregular behavior. But when Red was being questioned by Wolf, he drugged her water with a chemical that heightened her sense of paranoia. It’s all part of the mayor’s plan to cruelly eliminate black people, not by arresting them, but by turning them on each other. The only solution, Jack tells Red, is to engage in a violent shootout with the police. And so he and Red go to the police station to kill all the cops.
Do you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes? Check this out? This is the final act – my boy Peele is firing at all the cylinders now!
Here’s what goes down: Red and Lumber Jack go absolutely crazy trying to fight the power, but Red hallucinates again. Only this time, she’s fully aware that she’s seeing the real world, not a dream. We realize that she is on a movie set with a tranquilizer dart in her leg. Hmmm…
It turns out that ‘Pull Over’ has a third meaning – it’s a reference to pulling the wool over your eyes (doggone it, you’ve done it again Jordan!). In a nutshell, Red discovers that her whole adventure has secretly been part of a movie. She discovers a new type of blaxploitation film, one in which black people are used to satisfy the white American craving for black culture. In the vein of Get Out, being black is incredibly in.
Red learns that hundreds of innocent black civilians are being held in a giant studio. Their former lives are erased, they’re programmed with new memories and backstories, and are thrust headfirst into random storylines. Like Truman from The Truman Show, their acting is genuine and their dialogue unscripted. The studio executives find that this gives the films an authenticity and severity that other movies lack. In between scenes, the actors are tranquilized; if they need to do a reshoot, the previous take is erased from their memory.
What’s worse, there are so many safeguards in place that nobody can escape, or even become cognizant of what’s happening. Not Lumber Jack, Officer Wolf, or even Grandma G (played with impressive maturity by Storm Reid). But white people are nothing if not clueless, and they didn’t realize that the paranoia-drug they gave Red allowed her to wake up. Or more accurately, to become woke…
Anyways – Red realizes all this as she tries to escape the facility. The tension builds religiously as she discovers each facet of the truth, running through corridors and across set pieces while being pursued by white security guards. She’s cornered into the makeup and costume room, and in one of the most profoundly resonating commentaries I’ve seen in millennia, she hides by reluctantly putting on white face.
With her new disguise, she walks out of the room completely unnoticed. The film ends with her leaving the studio, wiping off the makeup, and gazing in awe at the real world. I gotta say, Peele has really outdone himself with this one. If you’re looking for some quality social commentainment this upcoming week, check out Us. But if you’re looking again in a few months, you need look no further than Pull Over, which will arguably become the best movie of this century. Of any century, really.