Midnight Special

 

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A boy with mysterious powers is driven through the American South at night with the FBI and NSA on 

his trail.

 

Midnight Special 

Night sight: Jaeden Lieberher 

 

Who is Alton Meyer? Nobody is entirely sure, not even Alton Meyer himself. His biological father Roy (Michael Shannon) knows that Alton is no ordinary eight-year-old boy, his adoptive father Calvin (Sam Shepard) believes he is the Messiah and the FBI suspects that he’s some kind of weapon. The fun part of Jeff Nichols’ mystery-thriller is that it doesn’t spoon-feed the viewer with the bleeding obvious but feeds out a line of intrigue that, for the most part, keeps us hooked for the ride. There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, drives through the night and featureless motel rooms, but precious little dialogue, all while Alton’s special powers increase and his health deteriorates. Daylight proves too bright for the boy’s sensitive eyes, and he wears ear mufflers to blot out any intrusive noise, the better to tune into a network of signals and wavelengths hiding some form of pernicious intent.

 

Much of what we need to know is relayed through TV news bulletins, initially leading us to suspect that the boy has been kidnapped by two opportunistic rogues. Then, gradually, we learn that Roy Tomlin and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are acting entirely in the boy’s interests and are helping him to reach a midnight destination that will eventually determine his purpose – and destiny. But what the hell is it?

 

Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker who has been creeping up on us, favouring tales steeped in atmosphere and mystery. He continues the trend here, along with the casting of his muse Michael Shannon, who has appeared in all three of his previous films and has established himself as a redoubtable indie star. Shannon just never appears to be acting and fills any silences in the script with a lexicon of contradictory thought processes. He’s ably supported here by the relentlessly ubiquitous Joel Edgerton, as well as Kirsten Dunst as the boy’s mother, Adam Driver as an unconventional and sympathetic NSA agent and Sam Shepard as a misguided man of God. Alton himself is played by Jaeden Lieberher (the Culkin template from St. Vincent) with a disarming inscrutability, adding to the film’s pervasive air of ambiguity.

 

If the final chapter fails to live up to the earlier promise, it’s a customary defect for this sort of thing, but may yet keep certain conspiracy theorists in thrall. Nonetheless, paramedics in particular will be appalled by the film’s ignorance of medical matters, or maybe the blood loss depicted, and the victims’ miraculous recovery, is all part of Alton Meyer’s magic.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sean Bridgers.

 

Dir Jeff Nichols, Pro Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Screenplay Jeff Nichols, Ph Adam Stone, Pro Des Chad Keith, Ed Julie Monroe, Music David Wingo, Costumes Erin Benach.

 

Faliro House Productions/Tri-State Pictures-Entertainment One.

111 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 8 April 2016. Cert. 12A.