One thing I love about the magic of movies is that the possibilities are endless. You can make a film about dinosaurs terrorizing a theme park, a group of scientists who hunt ghosts, or a special boy in a magical wizarding world. The limits are only as far as the imagination of the filmmakers, so it’s strange that so many films feel completely ordinary. But every once in a while, a film like Midnight Special comes along that truly captures the wonder of cinema. It’s a heartwarming, Spielbergian sci-fi tale that has no shortage of unique ideas. These ideas are firmly handled by writer/director Jeff Nichols, who continues to establish himself as a reliable up-and-coming filmmaker. Its concepts may seem otherworldly, but the father/son relationship at the film’s center couldn’t feel more human.

While most movies deliver exposition and set things up before kicking the plot into high gear, Midnight Special drops you right into the action. It’s a very refreshing change of pace from a director who never spoon feeds his audience information. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run from the police with his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Alton has some form of special abilities that were being exploited by a cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). Having stolen his son away from this cult, Roy is on the run from the cult and the FBI, who are interested in Alton’s unique abilities. Along the way, they pick up Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) and hurry towards a secret location that could hold the answers to Alton’s special gifts.

Nichols is able to capture a real sense of wonder as we get wrapped up in this tale of a family on the run. The movie is both large in its ideas and small in its scope and execution. It’s a sci-fi film that doesn’t need hundreds of millions of dollars poured into it. The most important thing here is the relationship between a father and a son, which is executed beautifully. Michael Shannon, usually known for playing villains or off-putting characters, gives one of the best performances of his career as a man willing to sacrifice anything in service of his son. And Jaeden Lieberher is half of this relationship and he nails it as well. There’s definitely something alien about his character, but their relationship feels more real than what most movies are able to achieve.

It’s the film’s final moments where things feel like they really come together, balancing emotions and action with sci-fi ideas and visuals. It’s very reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it’s hard not get choked up watching Roy risk everything for the sake of his son. There are a few hiccups along the way, most notably the subplot involving the cult that seems to go nowhere, but it’s all worth it to get to the memorable conclusion. The sci-fi and adventure elements might be what attract viewers to Midnight Special, but it’s ultimately the personal relationships between the characters that stay with you the most.

Midnight Special receives 3.5/4

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