(2016, Jeff Nichols)
[4 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
From the very first scene my mind became full of questions. And this goes on and on as if Nichols is pouring them little by little inside your brain. Who is this boy with the goggles? Why is he wearing goggles? Why are the windows covered with cardboard? Why is the Federal government chasing after them? Who are these two men escorting this kid? Why do they drive in the dark? Why do they fear this seemingly innocent boy? What powers does he possess?
Like most compelling films it drops you right into the action without any artificial and plodding exposition. The opening scenes are mostly wordless but accompanied with an energetic score that suggests we're heading towards something grand and explosive (thankfully it doesn't). You figure everything out on your own - by overhearing news reports in the background and carefully placed reveals that unspool the larger narrative, or so you would expect.
The film touches on sci-fi and supernatural elements involving other dimensions and the expansiveness of the universe but the movie itself is quite microscopic, elemental, even quiet. It is about parental love (actually all of Nichols' films is about parental love) and the plot is deceptively small. It is essentially a chase movie a la Mad Max but instead of a balls-out high-octane beautiful assault to the senses, Midnight Special is the cerebral and introspective iteration.
The resolution is expected but it's really about the journey. The dramatic core lies with the relationship between the boy and his father and mother. Dunst, Shannon, Driver, Edgerton and Lieberher nail the tone the film is going for. Their reactions and expressions aren't big or grand but just the right amount. Their acting is best expressed when Nichols and his cinematographer borrow the Spielbergian technique of focusing on the face of the looker just as they are witnessing a thing of wonder before cutting to a shot revealing it. And there are many wonders to be seen in this movie, mostly small and sparingly jaw-dropping.