"The only thing I ever believed in was Alton."
Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and his young son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who posses strange and mystical powers, find themselves on the run from a variety of people who seek to exploit and utilizes the boy’s powers. As they flee they work to uncover the truth behind Alton’s powers and what they might unlock.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols fourth film works brilliantly as an exercise in methodical pacing. As the narrative progress he slowly drip feeds the audience information, never divulging more than is necessary at any given moment which results in a suspenseful mystery that keeps the audience not only engaged but extremely involved. He takes the time to let his character live and breathe on the screen, letting the audience adapt to their motivations, relationships and attitudes which helps to create not only a lived in world but a world that you're truly feel invested in.
The heart of the film lies in its characters and more importantly the performances that bring them to life. Every actor brings their A game to this film with Michael Shannon (a Jeff Nichols regular) captaining the ship as the quiet and reserved Roy in a performance that not only commands the screen with his stern exterior but also conveys a true love and compassion of a father doing everything he can for his son. It’s Jaeden Lieberher however that truly owns the film, given the somewhat marginal screen time he actually has in the film he creates a full arch in Alton that is not only heart wrenching and credible but manages to help ground the films sci-fi storyline with a true sense of realism.
The film cleverly weaves in the traditional tropes of the science-fiction genre, the fear of the unknown, the quest for discovery, but it’s so much more than that. Nichols isn’t simply making a genre picture here, he’s making a film about fatherhood, the fears and responsibility that comes along with it and what those truly mean to him as a person. He manages to weaves these themes in subtly, lingering on small moments between Roy and Alton just long enough to make his point while not telegraphing it to the audience (like I mentioned earlier, drip feeding information).
Playing like a weird and amazing hybrid of Carpenter’s “Starman”, Spielberg’s “Close Encounters” and Malick’s “Badlands”, “Midnight Special” is a film of quiet beauty and intensity. Nichols takes the time to develop his story and characters, creating a true mystery and letting it unfold slowly and brilliantly for his audience to revel in. The skill with which he is able to create such intrigue and emotional impact with an impeccably woven and yet somewhat simplistic storyline is masterful filmmaking at its best and sure to go down as one of the best films of the year.
9.5 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.