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MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

SYNOPSIS: The story of a father, Roy (Michael Shannon), who goes on the run to protect his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy with mysterious powers that even Roy himself cannot comprehend. What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government. Risking everything, Roy is committed to helping Alton reach his ultimate purpose, whatever that might be and whatever it costs.

Review by Louise Keller:
A religious cult, a desperate father on the run and a little boy from whose eyes emanates blinding light are the elements that form the starting point in Jeff Nichols' often intriguing sci-fi thriller. There are more questions than answers for much of the time and the best thing in the film is Michael Shannon who is its driving force - as he was in Nichols' 2011 thriller, Take Shelter. There are a few too many plot holes, but in any event, the less you know about the plot the better. The strength of the film is its enigmatic sense of mystery, even the leap of faith required is at times difficult to maintain.

The film begins with news reports in Central Texas of a missing 8 year old boy and a man believed to be with him. But we quickly learn that this is no ordinary boy, nor is there anything ordinary about the circumstances surrounding him. When we first see him, he is hidden under a sheet, wearing eye goggles and reading comics by torchlight. It is a curious sight.

The clues begin at a remote dairy ranch where a religious cult is waiting for the boy Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) to be returned. Then the FBI get involved and the chase is on. Shannon squarely carries the film on his shoulders playing Alton's father Roy - he is the character for whom we care and with whom we connect. Lieberher (the boy in St Vincent who befriends Bill Murray) delivers a mature and credible performance; the all important relationship between father and son is key. Also effective is Joel Edgerton as Roy's expressionless accomplice Lucas; he may not say much but his intentions are never in never doubt. I like Adam Driver as the FBI's resident expert Sevier, an interesting addition to the cast while Kirsten Dunst as Alton's biological mother gets a small chance to shine at the end.

The title is as intriguing as the premise. Like the folk song made popular by Creedence Clearwater Revival about a train whose light promises hope, so too does the light shining from Alton's eyes, even if it does not all make sense.

Review by Andrew L. Urban :
The screenplay seems to meld together various elements from M. Night Shayamalan's oeuvre, along with odds and sods from other stories, but it is presented with such verve we tend to overlook its derivative nature. We also need to overlook its lack of cohesion or internal contradictions. I won't go into details to avoid blurting out spoilers, but I was surprised that the producers didn't demand another rewrite. Notes: establish some context for the characters; eliminate conflicting or illogical elements; clean up the alien elements (and find a more imaginative architect for their world).

On the other hand, the performances are so damned good that we tend to go with the flow.
Jaeden Lieberher as the mysteriously gifted 8 year old Alton is a stand out, delivering a mature, calibrated performance without falling into precociousness. Michael Shannon is wonderfully vulnerable as Roy, the father determined to save him from harm and/or exploitation by the ignorant or misguided, with help from old school friend Lucas, played with effortless authority and authenticity by Joel Edgerton.

Kirsten Dunst is reliably effective as Alton's fraught mother, Sarah, while Adam Driver proves to be a satisfying example of left-of-field casing as the FBI analyst closes to the mystery. The film begins with a masterclass in powerful minimalist performance from Sam Shepard as the head of the sect - the Ranch - which plays a key role on Alton's story, and David Jensen makes a tortured Ranch-hand (as it were) Elden.

David Wingo's score is terrific, so it's disappointing that the film leaves us dissatisfied; it's not for want of talent or trying.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (M)
(US, 2016)

CAST: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen

PRODUCER: Sarah Green, Brian Javanaugh-Jones

DIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

SCRIPT: Jeff Nichols

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Stone

EDITOR: Julie Monroe

MUSIC: David Wingo

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chad Keith

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2016







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