Saturday, May 9, 2020

Movie Reviews: Midnight Special

Midnight Special
directed by Jeff Nichols
For older people such as myself this 2016 movie may bring to mind the film Escape to Witch Mountain, the original that is, not the remake with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. 

Midnight Special also referenced films such as Superman and Firestarter

Most good parents will do anything for their children. Midnight Special has a theme of parental sacrifice. The film also raises the awesome power, both legal and logistical, of the Federal government. There are so many Federal laws on the books that a determined and motivated Federal prosecutor can often easily, if he or she so desires, transform a law abiding person into a hunted fugitive with one click on a keyboard.

And even in a continental sized nation, it's hard for anyone to disappear when the full machinery of the United States government is repurposed to searching for that person. At its core this is a chase film. The hook or problem with this is that both at the beginning and the end of the film the viewer may not be sure who's the hero.

The Ranch is a Texas based end times Christian fundamentalist group cult. That's both their location and their name. 

Most members but especially the women, dress like 19th century Mormons. The women generally braid their hair.

The Ranch's beliefs aren't detailed but the group has apparently concluded that the End Of The World is not only nigh, but also will happen in about three days, give or take a few hours. 

In preparation for this, members of the Ranch have purchased a great many firearms. And as this is America, as one person points out, there's nothing illegal about that.

Presiding over the Ranch is their genial Pastor Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), a man of few words and courtly mien. Pastor Meyer has a problem. Someone has kidnapped his adopted son from the Ranch. Meyer wants, no needs, the boy back. 

The boy is critical to predicted events. Meyer dispenses a few of The Ranch's more devout members with instructions to retrieve the boy regardless of what sins they might need to commit along the way. 


Meanwhile the Pastor and his entire congregation are detained by armed Federal agents. These nice men with guns, handcuffs and legal authority intend to interview everyone. 

So the Ranch residents had better play nice if they ever want to see their kids again. The agents, most especially the NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) want to know just how in the world encrypted numbers and data from NSA satellites are appearing in Meyer's sermons. Important government officials are angry about that.

Per Meyer, he got this info from his adopted son Alton (Jaeden Martell, Bill from Stephen King's It Part One). Alton speaks in tongues and gives the congregation data which presumably tells them where they need to be to survive the Apocalypse. 

In a motel room one Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and his good friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) watch news of the raid on The Ranch and the Amber Alert for Alton. Apparently they kidnapped Alton. Well kidnap might be the wrong word as former Ranch adherent Roy is Alton's biological father. Pastor Meyer took custody away from Roy.


Roy's purposes aren't clear.
We know that Roy thinks he's protecting his son. One thing Roy wants to do, before taking Alton to the precise place he needs to be in three days, is to reunite Alton with Alton's mother and Roy's wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst). 

The reunited family and Lucas try to stay one step ahead of the Feds and of Meyer's true believer enforcers. Alton does have some uncanny abilities, such as speaking foreign languages in perfect sync to a radio station no one's tuned in yet, knowing when he's being watched by satellites, causing storms, earthquakes, explosions and even stranger talents. Otherwise, Alton is just a quiet kid who likes comic books and avoids sunlight.

The chases were fun. Some of this film fell apart on deeper thought. This film could have used a scene chewing big baddie government type. Character motivations are too murky. There are only a few violent scenes. More is implied than shown. Sex is non-existent. 

Shannon often brings some quirky intensity to his roles. He does so here as a father determined to protect his son. But what is he protecting him from? You may still be wondering at the film's conclusion. If you're intrigued and not angered by that possibility, check this out.
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