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article imageReview: ‘Midnight Special’ is a unique tale of knowing and not knowing Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 1, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Midnight Special’ chronicles the last leg of a boy’s journey as everyone tries to decide if he’s their son, saviour or destroyer.
In spite of humans’ desire to be all-knowing, we must admit that which we don’t know far exceeds that which we understand. Who knows what the rest of the infinite universe holds or what other intelligent life may live beyond our reach, and whether or not they’re aware of our existence; or, as many films have proposed, how long these beings have observed us and/or lived undetected in our midst. On top of scientific unknowns are the various possibilities provided in religion regarding omnipotent deities, the afterlife and Earth-bound saviours. Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ latest picture, Midnight Special, is a captivating mystery steeped in faith and devotion.
Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) is on a mission to protect his son, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) — from the cult that formed around him, the federal government, local authorities and anyone else who may cause him harm. Alton is special: he knows impossible things, can telekinetically control technology and emits bright lights from his eyes. While Roy may not understand why his son can do these things, he knows it’s weakening him and he needs to get him to a certain place at a certain time in order to save him. And Roy’s friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) is going to help him do it. As the NSA, FBI, cult henchmen and an Amber Alert chase them across state lines, reaching their destination without being apprehended becomes increasingly doubtful.
There is no preamble to the main narrative. The story begins with Roy, Lucas and Alton already on the run, trying to avoid detection. Alton casually (and ironically) reads a Superman comic book by flashlight as the men monitor the roads and police scanner for threats. They travel at night and take refuge during the day, blacking out the windows with cardboard. Before anything is revealed about the boy’s abilities, Roy proves he’s willing to kill to keep him safe and the cult leader (Sam Shepard) resolves to retrieve him at all costs. Roy has few allies, but he, Lucas and Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), are absolute in their commitment to ensuring the child completes his journey.
A scene from  Midnight Special
A scene from 'Midnight Special'
Warner Bros. Pictures
Their pursuers are equally important to the story, even if they do represent the film’s antagonists. The cult worships Alton, believing he is a messenger from God that will save them at the Reckoning. However, they also use him and greedily cling to him for the own ends. The government is concerned he is some sort of weapon sent to spy on them or worse. Their investigation also offers important narrative information to the viewer as they attempt to understand what is happening and make their own assumptions about Alton. But amongst the plethora of FBI trackers is NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), whose intelligence and curiosity puts him at the head of the task force and positions him as the most qualified to eventually find Alton and, to some extent, grasp what is happening.
The majority of the two-hour sci-fi picture is an absorbing, mysterious and often thrilling cross-country cat-and-mouse chase. As the story gradually unfolds, the audience’s comprehension of it is also evolving until they finally catch-up with Alton’s family and then experience all the new developments with equal wonder. However, there is a moment in the narrative when it takes a particular turn to the fantastic that not everyone will be able to accept; which also makes the conclusion more difficult to swallow. Although it works in the context of the story, the originality of the concept combined with the relatively familiar architecture demands a leap in the viewer’s commonly requested suspension of belief. Still, none of this detracts from the overall quality of Nichols’ narrative.
Moreover, the acting is superb. Shannon is excellent in the role of a father whose emotions are constantly on edge; although a little rash at times, he is believably doing what he thinks is in his son’s best interest. Dunst is slightly less involved, but her attentiveness to Alton’s needs as both a child and something more is commendable. Even though Lucas is not biologically linked to the family, Edgerton demonstrates his dedication equals theirs and allows him to act somewhat more rationally than Roy in high-pressure situations. Driver portrays one of the film’s main characters, but Paul exists outside of this dynamic. Thus, his attempts to gain more information and get closer to Alton are often awkward and humorous.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst
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