Hearkening back to a cool 70's/80's sci-fi thriller, with echoes of "Close Encounters" and "Starman",
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is a moody, intelligent film nearly perfectly executed.
As the film opens, we meet a father and son on the run from a mysterious religious cult.
The father Roy (played with perfect intensity by Michael Shannon) is careful. loving and protective of his son Alton, who wears blue goggles over his eyes, headphones over his ears and hides under a blanket from the daylight.
They are joined on the road by a heavily armed third man, Lucas, who shares Roy's passion for protecting Alton at all costs.
Lucas is played by Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby) with a hair trigger that seems ready to be pulled at any moment.
The three huddle in a car, trying to escape Amber alerts and the police.
But it's not only the police.....
The ATF and FBI raid the cult, asking every member about Alton and the meaning behind the numbers and quotes that Alton has shared with the church.
The more they (and we) learn about the boy, the pieces merge into a portrait of a young boy with very special gifts.
Try to see the film knowing as little as possible about Alton's powers, the church and the government's interests in them and their convergence.
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols weaves the story carefully, taking his time with audio and video clues of what lies ahead. Nichols created a similar film in 2011 called "Take Shelter". He partnered with Shannon on that story as well, and the films share the same, quiet build to a terrific climax.
Kirsten Dunst follows her strong performance in TV's "Fargo" with another powerful turn as Alton's mother and Sam Shephard is very good as Calvin Meyer, the spiritual leader of the cult, who treats Alton's words as gospel and his powers as an apocalyptic prophecy.
Rounding out the cast is a great performance by Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in "The Force Awakens") as an FBI analyst suddenly thrust into the forefront of the government's search for Alton.
His character Paul Sevier becomes a surrogate for the audience, watching with awe along with us as the truth about Alton emerges.
A film whose first two acts are this strong finds easy forgiveness when the final act teeters between slightly underwhelming and beautiful.
I would have loved to have seen Calvin and his cult play more of a critical role in the finale, but its a minor criticism of a very good film.
Between this film and "Take Shelter", Nichols is building a terrific vault of small, eclectic films that burst out of their genre mold into something much more tangible.
Like Alton, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is just that, something truly special, and its also great entertainment that echoes "Super 8", "Close Encounters" and the underappreciated "Tomorrowland" in all the right ways.
It's slow build pulled me in and fascinated me, all the way to an A.