Rated: PG-13 for some violence and action. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 18, 2016 Released by: Warner Brothers
Jeff Nichols' fourth feature is a genre hybrid in solemnly portentous, restrained mode that necessarily isn't a bad thing. But, maybe for more than a few mainstream cineastes who might find familiar, if too plodding strokes to the efforts of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, M. Night Shamaylan, and Rian Johnson, to name a few.
The director of Mud and Take Shelter grounds his sci-fi thriller with a foreboding profundity that unfolds in typical road picture fashion. But, with some interesting, edgy twists which offer some hair-raising stretches.
An abduction in rural Texas highlights the catchy opening that leads to apocalyptic cult figures and government agents. Important to all, especially the kidnappers is a boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) with special powers like being able to speak in tongues and donning bluish swimming goggles.
Roy (Michael Shannon of Man of Steel) and State Trooper Lucas (a down-to-earth Joel Edgerton of Black Mass and the undervalued The Gift) are those involved in the on-the-lam scheme which leads to an FBI raid on a folksy religious sect known as "The Ranch."
The always welcome Sam Shepard is their preacher Calvin Meyer with a forceful presence whose sermons happen to be top secret federal communications. After a while an ambiguity clears up concerning the psychic Alton, at least to a degree from his connection to Meyer and "The Ranch." With some emotional and thematic resonance along the way paved by an actorly commitment to characters that overall appear to trump the narrative.
What Midnight Special expresses from the familial to a shared, shady past with conspiracy overtones is dramatically viable even through a telekinesis. Being around "The Ranch" is gripping enough and not having Shepard around enough limits the total output of the product. But, Shannon finds a way to deliver many shades to Roy that works with the young precociously enigmatic Liebeher; something at stake is crucial and comes forth in the key relationship between Roy and Alton.
Also, a gawky security expert realizing those "coordinates" puts Adam Driver in an amusing turn, while Kirsten Dunst (so good recently on the second season of the small-screen Fargo) makes an impression as a former member of "The Ranch" who meets up with the fugitives.
The production (especially some special effects) may belie the gratifying nature of the material, but a diversifying Nichols and his cast still add insightful distinction to a tried-and-true formula. Which may recall a similar milieu which Oscar-winners like Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Bridges inhabited with much success.