'Midnight Special' Movie Review: Michael Shannon's Performance Is Next Level

Get all the details of the movie.

ByABC News
April 1, 2016, 3:45 PM
Jaeden Lieberher as Alton and Michael Shannon as Roy in a scene from the sci-fi thriller, "Midnight Special."
Jaeden Lieberher as Alton and Michael Shannon as Roy in a scene from the sci-fi thriller, "Midnight Special."
Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros.

— -- Starring Michael Shannon, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst

Rated PG-13

Four out of five stars

The simple, modest-budget, indie sci-fi look and feel of "Midnight Special" is certainly part of its appeal, but that’s hardly what defines writer-director Jeff Nichols’ first studio film.

Michael Shannon plays Roy, the father of a young boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) who has powers not of this world. The story begins with Roy and his childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), kidnapping Alton from “The Ranch,” which resembles some sort of commune but turns out to be more of a cult, devoted to Alton, whom they believe is their savior.

Mind you, they don’t blindly believe the boy has powers: the boy really does have powers, like beams of light that shoot out of his mouth and eyes. He has the ability to shoot those beams of light into another person’s eyes and make them see and feel things. He can also shake the earth and cause walls to crumble but doesn’t really know how to control that ability.

Unbeknownst to both The Ranch and Roy, the government’s aware of Alton. But they don’t believe he’s a savior. They think he’s way more dangerous than that.

Alton needs his father to get him to a designated spot on March 6, though he’s not quite sure why. On their heels is The Ranch, willing to do whatever it takes to get the boy back, while the government is desperate to get their hands on Alton before he does any damage.

Adam Driver, most recently seen as bad-guy Jedi Kylo Ren in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," is great here as the smartest, calmest guy in the room, an NSA agent tasked with figuring out who Alton is and what he’s up to. Kirsten Dunst, as Alton’s mother, gives one of her more honest and soulful performances, the kind that will put casting directors and great filmmakers on notice.

Also terrific is Shannon, Nichols’ collaborator from "Mud," "Take Shelter" and "Shotgun Stories." These two work well together, and with "Midnight Special," Nichols does something that allows Shannon to take his game to another level.

Nichols, as he has in his previous movies, shows an incredible amount of restraint. The guy knows the best special effect is when you combine a great screenplay with great acting, and that’s what he does here. He’s also expert at building tension though silence and action, no dialogue necessary. Having said that, the end of "Midnight Special" is kind of cheesy, inconsistent with the rest of the film. Even so, it doesn’t detract too much from the rest of a better than solid effort.