Sunday, April 3, 2016

Midnight Special

While the Batman v Superman hoopla machine was ramping up, there was actually another movie coming out that I really wanted to see more, but was irritatingly released in a limited number of theatres with none of them being in my home state of Minnesota. That film was a heartfelt and original sci-fi adventure film, Midnight Special. Now, thankfully, it has finally arrived here and I couldn't wait to see it. 

Roy Tomlin (played by Michael Shannon) is on the run with his son, Alton Meyer (played by Jaeden Lieberher). Accompanying them is Roy's childhood friend Lucas (played by Joel Edgerton). Alton is an incredible eight year old boy with unique special abilities that include being able to hear all types of radio signals and strong telekinetic abilities, including control over electronics. He is also able to emanate a bright white light from his eyes and his hands that ties in with certain telepathic abilities. Roy and Lucas are trying to protect him from both the Government and a religious cult referred to as The Ranch, both of which intend to exploit Alton's abilities. They are able to discern coordinates from the signals Alton has picked up along with a time table for them to follow to arrive at a designated point at a certain time. Seeing no better option, they decide to follow the coordinates to see where it leads them, picking up Alton's mother Sarah (played by Kirsten Dunst) along the way. In addition to members of the Government and The Ranch, NSA agent Paul Sevier (played by Adam Driver) is also trying to track down Alton out of genuine curiousity about the boy's abilities. 

Writer-Director Jeff Nichols really created something special with Midnight Special. He manages to craft a surprisingly tender and thoroughly absorbing sci-fi tale filled with characters I found myself genuinely caring about. In the age of the overblown sci-fi epics with explosions and destructions galore, I was hungering for something like this and it sated that hunger and then some. Nichols sets the bar high for the viewer, dropping us in right in the middle of the action and expecting the audience to keep up as we are quickly introduced to Alton, Roy and Lucas as they prepare to leave their latest hotel room at night and continue on with their journey. The T.V is on with the news playing, letting us know an Amber Alert has been issued for Roy and Alton. They travel under the cover of darkness, Alton in the backseat, reading Superman comics that Lucas bought for him by flashlight (Lucas has good taste in comics, by the way). As the film progresses, more and more gets explained as to the characters relationships are slowly revealed to the audience as well as the full breadth of Alton's incredible abilities. The film carefully reveals the mystery surrounding Alton's abilities and his place in the universe, leading to an awe inspiring finale that wisely doesn't try to explain everything completely, but gives enough clues that the audience can fill in the details. 

The performances across they board are quite good. Michael Shannon is great as Roy, a man who is willing to do absolutely anything to protect his son. The relationship and bond portrayed between him and Jaeden Lieberher is fantastic and provides the heart of the film. Joel Edgerton is likewise great as Lucas. I've become a huge fan of Edgerton's and will literally watch anything he is in. His character of Lucas, who was a state trooper and a upstanding man of the law, has a tough time breaking it, but then takes one look at Alton and reminds himself why. Jaeden Lieberher gives a fantastic performance as Alton, who is able to portray this mysterious young boy and all his incredible abilities in a really credible way. This was an important role in the film because if you as an audience didn't believe in this boy then it wouldn't work, but Lieberher pulls it off wonderfully and you buy why these people are so determined to protect this boy. Kirsten Dunst isn't given as much to do as Alton's mother, but makes every moment count, her emotional state speaking volumes with just a glance. Adam Driver is great as Paul Sevier, a million miles away from the villainous Kylo Ren he played in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he is rather someone who is genuinely interested in Alton's abilities, but has no interest in exploiting them, but rather to understand them as well as Alton's place in the universe.  

Overall, Midnight Special is indeed something special. I think I can confidently say at this point that this will be on my best of the year list. Thoughtful, heartfelt and intelligently written science fiction has become a rarity these days as big alien battles and mass destruction has taken it's place at the multiplex. If, like me, you are burned out on empty special effects epics more interested in spectacle than character, then I give this film my wholehearted recommendation as one worth checking out.