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Midnight Special - Review

Midnight Special

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JEFF Nicholls’ ascent as one of the most ambitious indie directors of his generation continues apace with his fourth film, Midnight Special.

Serving as both a tribute to 80s sci-fi classics Starman and Close Encounters of The Third Kind and an intimate father-son tale, this touches the heart while dazzling the brain.

The film picks up where most would reach their halfway point as an eight-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is on the run with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and partner-in-crime Lucas (Joel Edgerton).
The boy in question has other-worldly powers and is wanted by both the religious cult that view him as their salvation and the US government that want to understand and exploit his abilities.

But just where these powers come from remains the story’s big question, coupled with whether or not he will be able to fulfil his destiny in time.

Nicholls has long been a filmmaker whose big ideas surpass budgetary restraint, as anyone who has seen Take Shelter (about a father possibly dealing with visions of the apocalypse) or Mud (a criminal on the run who becomes a father figure to two boys) will testify.

Here, he combines the visual spectacle required of a sci-fi homage to Spielberg with the heartfelt emotional dynamic that has become his trademark.

Hence, as thrilling and/or startling as some sequences are, the film remains just as potent in its quiet moments, when the father-son dynamic can properly be explored along with the emotional tussle at play.
There are wider issues, too, such as the threats posed by both religious fanaticism and government control, but while they provide food for thought, the film is primarily concerned with the human story at it’s often extraordinary core.

Performance-wise, this once more pays huge dividends. Shannon and Lieberher are both excellent as the father and son, sharing an often unspoken bond that is unshakeable in its trust and devotion. But Edgerton is great, too, as Roy’s conscience, as is Adam Driver, as a sympathetic government agent, and Kirsten Dunst, as Alton’s mother.

Admittedly, with so many ideas and characters at play, some feel under-developed (such as Sam Shephard’s cult leader). And at 112 minutes, there is arguably scope for another 10 or 15 minutes and an even richer journey.

But given that Nicholls has long been the kind of director who could teach most blockbuster filmmakers a thing or two about how story and character can co-exist with visual style, Midnight Special offers another masterclass in how to do so.

It is a journey you won’t regret taking.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 112mins
UK Release Date: April 8, 2016