From the director of Take Shelter and Mud, Jeff Nichols shifts into uncharted territory with science fiction drama Midnight Special.
The film opens with two rugged characters, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) who have seemingly kidnapped an eight-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) who appears to have unique abilities. We quickly discover that Roy is, in fact, Alton’s father and along with friend Lucas, are trying to reach Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst). All the while being pursued by two groups, a religious cult, led firmly by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), who believe Alton is their saviour and the authorities, headed by sympathetic NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), who believe the child is a weapon.
Amongst big yet subtle ideas, are grounded and compelling performances from the entire cast. Shannon and Edgerton are realistic and rough around the edges heroes (with Edgerton impressively conveying vast amounts in a minor role), while Shannon and Dunst’s connection with Lieberher is almost palpable. Driver delivers a spot-on performance, balancing intellectual and offbeat mannerisms perfectly. Lieberher also performs a balancing act of childlike traits as well as otherworldly abilities, in an impressive outing for the young actor.
For all its celestial wonder, which is handled with the same down-to-earth grace John Carpenter showcased in Starman, at the centre of the film is a family drama. With all the joy, heartbreak and sacrifice parenthood brings. Soul is often absent in films that showcase spectacle, but Midnight Special definitely has a beating heart.
Some audiences may feel questions are left unanswered, but with an industry overflowing with prequels, sequels and spin-offs, connecting the dots myself was a welcome change of pace.