In memory of the brilliant David Bowie, I’ll take his Starman intro, for my intro to the review (with some words tweaked a bit to fit the movie):
Didn’t know what time it was, the film was sometimes slow/I leaned back, thought of Close Encounters, yo!
Some boy was shootin’ lazers out of his eyes, saw into your soul, his dad said/We can’t go outside if it is in the day
We’ll drive back fast, bullets we’ll spray/That was Spanish he spoke, and hazy cosmic NASA jive
There’s a starman, waiting for a ride/A cult would like to get him, but his parents hide him all the time.
Filmmaker Jeff Nichols is certainly an interesting cat. His first film Shotgun Stories, his last movie (also with Michael Shannon) was Take Shelter. He did the interesting coming-of-age, fugitive flick Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Now we get his take on E.T. meets David Koresh.
The build-up is fine, and the first half is rather interesting. Nothing wrong with a slow burn, and slowly revealing things to us. Casting Sam Shephard (also from Mud), as a cult leader with a large following on a ranch that’s raided by the FBI…intriguing.
Michael Shannon plays the father, who kidnaps his boy from the cult and is on the run. He’s an actor I love, but he’s poorly directed here. It would’ve been better to see him acting normal early on, and slowly unraveling as things get more tense later in the film. Instead, he has the same pained look the entire film. It’s a bit like how Jack Nicholson, an acting god, didn’t look any different when he went crazy in The Shining, as he did in the beginning, when he was supposed to be a normal writer taking a job watching a hotel.
The usually reliable Joel Edgerton, plays a childhood friend that’s helping with the “kidnapping.” His character shouldn’t have been so one-dimensional.
The film is shot well, and there are some fun scenes early on. Driving an old Chevelle with the lights out, but night vision goggles on. Probably a good move when Nancy Grace is shown on TV bitchin’ about you and showing your photo; although you wonder why Shannon wouldn’t at least wear a baseball cap, especially when he’s getting out at a busy gas station/casino to buy beef jerky and make an unnecessary phone call. You also wonder why he even got out of the car at the gas station, when his partner is in buying groceries. It didn’t occur to them that the boy, who the FBI and the cult is actively looking for, might wander out of the van to look at the sky?
The visual that follows is stunning, as we see some type of asteroid hitting the ground around him (I won’t spoil what it is you see hitting the ground, or any of the other few things that are explained to us).
The boy (Jaeden Lieberher) is wearing goggles, and we’re shown why. Bright light rays shoot out of his eyes. It sometimes blinds his dad, other times, it mesmerizes people that get visions when this occurs.
The casting of Lieberher is also a bit problematic. He looks like a cute Macauley Culkin, but doesn’t have a lot of range. We should feel he has these super powers, not just wonder why he’s wearing huge headphones when he sleeps.
We get an interesting confrontation with a State Trooper, but very often, the tone for the movie is off. Does it want to be a chase picture? Is it trying to be sci-fi? It’s trying to be an indie sci-fi film, which is fine. I thought I Origins pulled that off last year. Perhaps this is a bit outside of Nichols’ wheelhouse.
Kirsten Dunst is fine as the boy’s mother, although I wonder why if she escaped the cult…how did she not escape those cult-type hairstyles?
Adam Driver isn’t given a lot to do as an NSA agent. If this was a movie done in 1985, he would’ve been played more interestingly by Jeff Goldblum. A few times I was so bored listen to Driver’s drivel, that I was staring at his ears, wondering if they are what brought a satellite crashing down to Earth.
The 3rd act is really disappointing, and it has a few plot holes and confusing elements about it. That might make for a bit of fun discussing it with your friends when it’s over, but also frustrating moments, too.
The cinematography is moody, and this held my interest most of the way.
Since I started with a Bowie song, I might as well end tweaking another song’s lyrics:
This Midnight Special, didn’t shine a light on me.
It gets 2 stars out of 5.