Spell­bind­ing sci-fi

DA­MON SMITH finds the scenes be­tween the lead­ing man and his young co-star in Mid­night Spe­cial are mag­i­cal

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE -

THE world as we per­ceive it is a grand il­lu­sion in the im­pres­sive sci-fi thriller, Mid­night Spe­cial. Writ­ten and di­rected by Jeff Ni­chols, who de­servedly won plau­dits for the 2013 drama Mud, this el­e­gantly con­structed por­trait of a fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship owes a size­able debt to Steven Spiel­berg.

Close En­coun­ters Of The E.T. Kind would be a fit­ting al­ter­na­tive ti­tle for Ni­chols’ enig­matic pic­ture, which begs tan­ta­lis­ing ques­tions about our place in a vast, un­ex­plored uni­verse.

The open­ing 30 min­utes are a teas­ing co­nun­drum, dripfeed­ing us sliv­ers of nar­ra­tive and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion so we’re un­sure who to trust or be­lieve. Once the cogs of a ser­pen­tine plot be­gin to whir, our hearts be­long en­tirely to an oth­er­worldly boy on the run from the FBI, and his gruff pro­tec­tor.

The hushed intimacy of am­bigu­ous open­ing scenes, punc­tu­ated by un­com­fort­able si­lences, con­trasts with the screech­ing tyres and ex­plod­ing shot­guns as the edge-of-seat chase reaches a fre­netic crescendo.

Tele­vi­sion chan­nels flicker to life with break­ing news of the ab­duc­tion of an eight-year-old boy, Al­ton Meyer (Jae­den Lieber­her), by a man iden­ti­fied as Roy Tom­lin (Michael Shan­non).

View­ers are asked to re­main vig­i­lant and tele­phone any sight­ings.

Inside a ho­tel room, Roy and his buddy Lu­cas (Joel Edger­ton) pre­pare to move Al­ton – Roy’s bi­o­log­i­cal son – un­der the cloak of night in or­der to avoid at­tract­ing at­ten­tion. A brief pit stop for petrol leads to dev­as­ta­tion on an unimag­in­able scale and re­veals some of the lit­tle boy’s pow­ers.

Back at the com­pound of a re­li­gious cult, which used to be Al­ton’s home, leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shep­ard) des­patches two obe­di­ent dis­ci­ples, Doak (Bill Camp) and Levi (Scott Haze). “You have four days to get the boy back here,” growls Calvin, who be­lieves that Al­ton will pro­tect his flock from the end of the world. They track Roy, Lu­cas and the boy to the home of Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst).

Mean­while, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency an­a­lyst Paul Se­vier (Adam Driver) and the FBI try to make sense of Al­ton’s abil­i­ties and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions for mankind. Mid­night Spe­cial plays cat-and­mouse with our frayed nerves.

Ni­chols sus­tains ten­sion with aplomb and his lean script es­chews mawk­ish sen­ti­men­tal­ity, even when par­ents face the prospect of heart­break­ing sac­ri­fice for the ones they love.

Shan­non, who has ap­peared in all of Ni­chols’ films, is tightly wound as a fa­ther on a mis­sion, but he skil­fully re­veals chinks of an­guish and pa­ter­nal pride in his char­ac­ter’s ar­mour.

Scenes be­tween the Ken­tucky-born lead­ing man and young co-star Lieber­her are spell­bind­ing, es­pe­cially when the lit­tle boy serenely tells his fa­ther not to worry about him and Roy re­sponds proudly, “I’ll al­ways worry about you Al­ton, that’s the deal.”

We cer­tainly don’t need to worry about Ni­chols’ film.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.