Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya
Director: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Sam Shepard
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 3/9/16
Opens: March 18, 2016
Special effects are front and center in this offering from Jeff Nichols. “Midnight Special” is paced leisurely making makes its sudden, out-of-nowhere violence, its flashes of light and oh-so-realistic shower of meteors particularly impressive. With a performance from Jaeden Lieberher, a Philadelphia-born thirteen-year-old in the role of eight-year-old Alton Meyer, this intellectual addition to the sci-fi genre may be too slow for the “Transformers” crowd but more in line with those who go for pictures like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and even “E.T.” Much of Adam Stone’s lensing is in the dark because the kid is sensitive to light and David Wingo’s happily non-intrusive music, “Midnight Special” will probably get theatergoers to emphasize either its special role or, less happily its midnight downer.
With Michael Shannon in the role of Roy, the boy’s father, and Kirsten Dunst as Sarah, his mom, this movie emphasizes the extent to which parents will protect their son even if it means running away from gun-toting figures from a mysterious cult under the leadership of Calvin Meyr (Sam Shepard). And given the strong views of the religious figures who sometimes talk in tongues, the film shows the extent to which people will take whatever risks are needed to further their strong beliefs. Though not mentioned by writer-director Nichols, this is a cult that probably believes in the Rapture, which explains why they would do anything to recover young Alton, whom they believe is The Savior, or Messiah.
With State trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton) at his side throughout as best friend, Roy takes off with Alton, putting as many miles from the church as he can. Meanwhile newscasts indicate that Alton has been kidnapped rather than rescued, identifying Roy as the perpetrator. There’s quite a bit of fast driving in a 1972 Chevelle in the dark, headlights out, as Roy, Lucas, and later Sarah seek to evade both the cult followers and the FBI, together with other government agencies that believe the numbers representing Calvin’s apocalyptic readings are actually encrypted information that would make its acolytes guilty of high treason.
Most of the time young Alton relaxes in the back seat of the car, somehow knowing that NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) considers him a security threat, given the way Alton can pull government satellites out of the sky. Though the boy is sensitive to sunlight, he has no problem casting laser beams from both eyes perhaps to communicate with another world but also to effect some of his here-on-earth magic.
Fans of Michael Shannon will inevitably catch the movie, knowing the intensity he’s capable of (remember his powerful performance as Rick Carver, a single father struggling to get back his foreclosed home in one of last year’s best movies, “99 Homes,” which was snubbed by most awards groups?) The acting is fierce, all around, made more sinister by the darkness enveloping most of the movie.
Rated PG-13. 111 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B