Midnight Special
dir-scr Jeff Nichols
prd Sarah Green, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
with Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier
release US 18.Mar.16, UK 8.Apr.16
16/US Warner 1h51
Midnight Special
On the run: Lieberher and Shannon

edgerton dunst driver
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Midnight Special With the fantastical plot of a blockbuster but the filmmaking style of a low-budget arthouse drama, this low-key adventure is surprisingly gripping. Its central mystery is rather evasive, but filmmaker Jeff Nichols draws the audience in by quietly opening up the story and deepening the characters. And the actors add continually surprising textures.

Accompanied by his old friend Lucas (Edgerton), Roy (Shannon) is on the run across Texas with his son Alton (Lieberher). The FBI is on their trail, searching the isolated ranch where Roy and Alton lived as part of a religious cult led by Calvin (Shepard). And NSA Agent Sevier (Driver) is unnerved to discover that this cult was centred around Alton and his ability to gather secret government geographical coordinates. Meanwhile, Roy, Lucas and Alton reunite with Alton's mother Sarah (Dunst) and start a trek across the South. But Alton seems to be growing ill.

Throughout the film, Nichols drops continual hints and clues, sometimes linking the movie with classics like E.T. and Close Encounters, but always twisting the ideas and delving into the characters in unexpected ways. It's impossible to predict anything that happens in the film mainly because, like the characters, we never have quiet enough information to take an educated guess. So while we gather details and makes sense of the story, we hang on for the ride. It's a thrilling, wrenching, terrifying journey, but never in the usual bombastic movie ways.

Each of the cast members underplays his or her role, letting the characters' emotions show in their eyes as they brace themselves for whatever task lies ahead. Young Lieberher is magnetic at the centre as an 8-year-old with glowing eyes and an otherworldly sense of urgency. As his protectors, Shannon, Edgerton and Dunst are constantly surprising, revealing deeply internalised thoughts and feelings that help us identify with them in even the most intense situation. And Driver is terrific as the outsider who desperately wants to believe.

Nichols lays all of this out as an extended road movie, with a string of small, riveting adventures along the way. Several scenes are breathlessly suspenseful, while others are full of wonder. It's the kind of film that gently revels in the idea that there's more to this world than we can ever understand. And at its core it remains a beautiful exploration of how profoundly a parent can love a child, even if they don't quite understand him.

cert 125 themes, language, violence 8.Mar.16

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