Midnight Special – ***1/2 OUT OF 4
Indie, Arkansas- born, filmmaker Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”, “Mud”) graduates to Warner Brothers, with a final cut deal, to make a sci-fi adventure film about a boy with magical powers. This fourth feature film from Nichols is a mesmerizing chase pic with little or no back-story.
The plot is jettisoned by an Amber Alert: an eight-year old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) has been abducted by his divorced father Roy Tomlin (a superb Michael Shannon) and the father’s friend, Lucas, played by Joel Edgerton. The Texas Highway patrol is in pursuit and Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) wants her son back. Sam Shepard is crucial in a small role as the leader of a Waco-like cult called the Ranch which sees the boy as a savior. On the other side of the fence, government like the NSA see the boy as a security risk.
In discussing the film Nichols cites influence of John Carpenter’s “Starman” and Stephen Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. All these films are joined together in their belief of a cosmic convergence. Alton who wears cheap diving goggles most of the film is shown to have a white light in his eyes that could knock a satellite out of orbit. It is those special powers which make his father so uneasy and forms a key dimension in this action thriller. If there is a theme in this film it is clearly how each of the lives depicted in the film are unbalanced.
If there is weakness in the story it is its ending which feels as if the filmmaker struggled to come up with it. But the power of Act 1 exhibits such extraordinary virtuosity that it alone is worth the price of admission. The title of the film is gleaned from a song chosen for the closing credits