***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard
written and directed by Jeff Nichols
by Walter Chaw Jeff Nichols's Midnight Special is beautiful. It's a film about aspiration and sacrifice. It believes that the world is still a mysterious place anchored by love and hope and devotion to simple ideas about how hard it is to be a parent--and how important. It's about nurturing a thing with all your heart and letting it go when it's strong enough. It's about listening when it's the last thing you want to hear; it's about believing there's a future for your kids even if all evidence seems to suggest the opposite. It's like Tomorrowland in many ways, but mostly in its suggestion that there's a place maybe where things feel like they used to feel when you were a kid and everything was still possible. Even though nothing made sense, things would make sense one day when you were big. Midnight Special deserves its comparisons to films like E.T. and Starman and especially Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It works in the same small places with ordinary characters who grow to fill larger, echoing spaces. Nichols puts us in medias res with Roy (Michael Shannon) and his best friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) on the run from cult leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), having fled at some point before the movie starts with Roy's son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). We learn it was around Alton's oddities that the cult largely formed. We learn that Alton's oddities are perhaps supernatural, or extraterrestrial, or interdimensional. It doesn't really matter. They're profoundly strange, and there are times it appears that he's able to tell a little of the future.