Twinkling in the darkness, this is an intriguing step into the sci-fi genre, like a shady E.T movie with some Spielberg similarities in other worldly atmosphere, this film may not always have answers or a easy likable factor but it’s night-time soul is ever present and deep.
Roy (Michael Shannon) and 8 year old Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are escaping from something and along for the ride in the car is state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton). It’s apparent that Alton possesses some powers of a kind and he knows of coordinates which may help him, though police, cult folk, FBI and Alton’s mum Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) all come into the mix either to help or hinder his progress.
There’s a constant heavy presence throughout this movie that I can’t quite explain, like the sublime knack of capturing scenes in the night weighing over things in your mind. That’s the beauty here, that a lot of this movie is dark and it works so well for this ambiguous look into the set-up of Roy and Lucas with a child. It stamps down hard with a dramatic/science fiction feel because the night could be hiding any secret.
At times this feature tries things that don’t work and for me that’s when it descends into the unwanted more clichéd third act. Also it’s not always clear what’s happening which isn’t so much a problem but I can see why people wouldn’t like that transparency and so some may find it strange with no reason. In a way, so do I, a lot of the time it feels as if you’re in late to the party and stumbling trying to catch up but never quite getting the response necessary but ultimately Jeff Nichols’ writing and directing is layered, interesting and striking.
Back to the third act, I was not a fan I can tell you. It was obvious by a time to what or who Alton was but then after he’s taken and seen by interested interviewer Paul Sevier it grows a little over the top. Alton becomes a walking Skynet with nothing hindering him which loses any suspense or grit that was around before. Then the look of the landscape presented as Alton gets what he wants/needs is pretty naff and too much, I don’t think we needed to see that at all, it just feels like an alien stitch on. The film for me was better because it’s atmosphere was less is more.
I must comment on David Wingo’s score which was tremendous. It bristled away as if tickling over the back of my neck helping this mysterious sense of the film work wonders. The music over most of the car driving scenes was simple but wholly effective in subtly building up tension as to what may be happening. This mastered score with the well placed surprising moments of violence and shock revolving Alton’s escape helped craft a bold image.
Michael Shannon manages to look as if he’s hardly ever acting and by doing so provides depth and incredible nuanced expressions to his compassionate turn as Roy. Joel Edgerton does well as the man joining events with a stern look to all things but a more emotional connection to his motivations under the surface. Kirsten Dunst brings a great amount of emotion as she struggles to realise her son may go, the pain and yet relief for his safety is so well performed. Adam Driver is also a great presence here, giving a light note to the film in his role as Paul Sevier, the puzzled and then interested looks he gives as he gets wrapped up in the chase helps to see an outsider’s perspective. Jaeden Lieberher is wonderful as the little kid wise beyond his years, he delivers lines in an eerie manner and sticks in the background always making sure you know he’s there.
It’s not always a good thing, but for the most part this movie is complex and somehow magical, it’s also boosted by some especially talented acting.