Midnight Special is one of those great movies that hits the ground running–literally, since the main characters Roy, played by Michael Shannon and Lucas, played by Joel Edgerton, find themselves on the news during an Amber alert, which accuses them of having abducted a young boy. It turns out that they did take a boy, but he’s Roy’s son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and he was actually taken from a cult that’s led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). Calvin had taken Alton from Roy (who was a member of the cult) and raised the kid as his own son–the reason being is that Alton has developed some very particular powers at a very young age, powers that make the cult worship Alton as if he were a prophet.
Abducting his child from the cult compound, Roy goes on the run, with his childhood friend Lucas helping in any way he can. Calvin, not wanting to let the golden goose slip out of his grasp, begins organizing some men to go after Roy–until his plans are thwarted by the arrival of hundreds of armed FBI agents that seize his compound and place everybody under arrest. It turns out that the US Government has also taken notice of Alton’s extraordinary powers, and they are hell-bent on finding the boy, with an unassuming NSA agent (Adam Driver) helping to lead the charge.
The fantastic actor, Michael Shannon–who’s probably best known by mainstream movie fans for his role as General Zod in Man Of Steel–teams up again with Jeff Nichols, his director on the equally marvelous Take Shelter, to knock another one out of the park with Midnight Special. Eschewing the bullshit flashback trope that many films and TV shows use (where the story starts in mid-action, only to flashback several hours or days to explain everything), Midnight Special explains everything on the go, in dibs and drabs, all while it races through its chase sequences while building its story and creating some truly sympathetic characters at the same time. Shannon is great as always; he portrays a man who’s way out of his element who is just trying to do right by his son. Edgerton, an Australian, effectively creates a regular guy from Texas who’s just trying to help out his buddy and his kid.
Kirsten Dunst is also very good as Sarah, Alton’s mother, who gets caught up in protecting her son from both the cult and the government. Adam Driver gives a good performance as a character who should be a card-board cut out–the “evil” government agent–but he manages to instill within his NSA man a quiet nobility. Jeff Nichols’ script and direction is taunt and exciting, right up to the end of the chase, where the movie takes an incredible leap into SF territory that still makes sense while also being amazing at the same time. Midnight Special achieves the kind of wonderment and overall satisfaction that Disney’s Tomorrowland film strove for, but fell short of grasping. This is a gripping thriller that’s also a very emotional human drama wrapped in an astonishing science fiction story–and it all works spectacularly. Don’t miss it. –SF