"Midnight Special" - Soulful Sci-Fi!! (five out of five stars)
All around is a world that we cannot see.
That is the premise of nearly every religion, spiritual philosophy and metaphysical belief that has ever existed.
And...that world that we cannot see has interacted with our own world, somehow - through an event, a dream, a vision, a revelation...or a person.
In his latest movie, "Midnight Special", Jeff Nichols (screenwriter and director, known for "Take Shelter" and "Mud") uses that universal notion of a world that we cannot see and crafts an amazing, mind-bending and soulful thriller.
The movie stars Michael Shannon, one of Nichols favorite actors (known for "Take Shelter" and many other main-stream features such as "Man of Steel") as Roy, a father who has kidnapped his son, Alton (played remarkably by Jaeden Lieberher) from the grips of a local cult.
The entire movie is based around the reasons for and consequences of this action. Joel Egerton ("Star Wars", "The Great Gatsby") is Shannon's childhood friend Lucas, who agrees to help him kidnap his son; in many ways, we see the story unfold from his perspective as he learns more and more about why Alton is kidnapped, and why Roy feels like he has to do what he is doing.
Kirsten Dunst ("Spiderman", "Fargo: Season Two") plays Sarah, Alton's mother who gave him up for adoption by the cult's leader (Sam Shepherd) and who was then excommunicated by the cult. She knows, along with Roy, what makes Alton special and why the cult was so interested in controlling him; and she also understands why Roy had to kidnap him.
Nichols does an excellent job of unfolding the plot bit by bit, making just enough backstory known to drive the story forward and keep us on the edge of our seats. Make no mistake, though there are few gunfights and exploding buildings (there are a few!) this movie is first and foremost a thriller, telling an amazing story using tension, mystery and classic elements of flight and pursuit to bring us to the brilliant and soul-stirring conclusion.
The story begins with an FBI raid on the cult's compound somewhere in rural Texas. We learn that the FBI is not so much interested in the kidnapping of Alton but in who Alton is and where he may have gone. Adam Driver (recently thrust into major stardom in his role of Kylo Ren in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") plays a National Security analyst, tasked with the job of figuring out some very mysterious facts about Alton - such as the fact that he appears to be able to hear satellite transmissions and to control satellites in orbit. The cult uses Alton to bring "divine" messages, that in some cases are top secret messages transmitted by surveillance satellites.
So, we begin to learn that Alton is special...but how he is special is the driving force of the movie, and Nichols - while giving us hints - saves the reveal to the very end of the movie.
Along the way, Nichols uses character study to examine faith, purpose, mystery and the love of family. Shannon is masterful (as always) as a man driven by deep love for his son, who has risked everything to both protect him and surrender him. Egerton (another brilliant performance) plays a simple man - a state trooper - who comes to grip with a reality that he was never prepared for and is transformed by it. Dunst is also phenomenal in her role as Alton's mom, who struggles with guilt, fear and wonder as Alton's destiny begins to unfold.
Jaeden Lieberher steals the show as Alton. He learns, along with his parents and Lucas, about who he is and why he is so special. The knowledge brings about physical manifestations that are both magical and life-threatening - for him and those around him. As he grows, he centers, and his strength of will and wisdom surpasses those around him.
The end of "Midnight Special" is one of the best I have ever seen in a movie of this type. In "Take Shelter" Nichols gave us an ending that did not answer the movie's central questions; in "Midnight Special" he resolves the story beautifully, yet still leaves us with a wonderful sense of mystery. Be prepared to be overwhelmed and mystified by what the movie concludes is the reality that is around us. It will blow your mind - and elevate your soul.
"Midnight Special" has been called "soulful sci-fi" - and that it is! For anyone who enjoys great story telling, loves the "edge of your seat" thriller, and wants to be soul-elevated with a sense of wonder and beauty, Nichols latest is highly recommended.