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Monday, April 18, 2016

Midnight Special



Midnight Special is writer-director Jeff Nichols' compelling and sober science fiction tome about a very special, super powered young boy, played by Jaeden Lieberher, and the lengths his parents, played by Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst, will go to keep him safe until he unlocks the secret to his very existence. Shannon and Dunst, with the aid of former state trooper and Shannon's loyal childhood friend Joel Edgerton, abscond with their son from the Texas cult they belonged to, the kind of cult like we've seen in HBO's Big Love. The cult sends mercenaries to get Lieberher back. The federal government, having raided the cult, also wants control of the boy. Adam Driver plays an NSA analyst recruited to suss out what the boy can do and why. All these forces converge upon the missing family, trying to find an escape through night time blacktop highways of the Southern United States, staying in seedy motel rooms with the windows blacked out with cardboard, hoping to find an answer to who and what their son is.

Lieberher, who cannot be exposed to daylight and wears swimming goggles over his eyes, seems to have supernatural abilities like other worldly senses and the ability to control electricity and machinery. In a harrowing spectacle, he brings down a satellite spying on him, demolishing a gas station in a rain of fireballs. Pushing the comic book-like aspects of the story, he also reads Superman comics while sitting in the back seat of their getaway cars, an amusing nod to Michael Shannon, who played General Zod in Man of Steel. (As is Edgerton explaining how Kryptonite works. Shannon is not amused.) Things get worse for the family as the cult attacks them in a motel at gunpoint, which leads to the government capturing Lieberher. His interview scene in a white room with Driver is one of the most thrilling scenes in the movie, as Driver gets closer than anyone to understanding what Lieberher is, and agrees to help him get where he's going.

Oddly, where Lieberher is going turns out to be Tomorrowland. As he comes full bloom into his powers, Lieberher enables the "world on top of the world" inhabited by otherworldly beings of light to be exposed to almost everyone in the Southeastern United States. An enormous future city that is the spitting image of the gleaming and spire-laden megalopolis in Brad Bird's Tomorrowland is the final destination for Lieberer, and while it's cool to see, it's also so jarring and weird, George Clooney and Britt Robertson might as well have appeared to welcome the boy into his new space age home. To Midnight Special's credit, it does go out with a final face to face meeting with Driver and Edgerton, and the delight of Uncle Owen Lars sharing the screen with Kylo Ren isn't lost on the Star Wars fans in the audience. One imagines they argued long into the night about how no good/awesome Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were. To be a fly on that wall...