Owing its pedigree to films of the 80s like John Carpenter’s Starman and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nichols writes and directs this science fiction road movie that is best viewed with little to no plot knowledge. So suffice to say, I won’t be saying much about story points in my review.
Michael Shannon (giving a simmering emotive turn) is Nichols’ every man, in the same way Richard Dreyfuss was Steven Spielberg’s. As Roy, Shannon leaves behind a religious cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard) running across country with a special boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher turning in a gently restrained performance) pursued by members of the cult, as well as members of the federal government, including NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) – the Charles Martin Smith/Francois Truffaut role in the film.
The film plays with perception, as well as expectation; no one is whom they seem to be at the start of the film, as revelations are made about the nature of relationships, responsibilities, and parental love.
Joining Roy and Alton on the cross-country race, driven by a set of coordinates and a date, is Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), both of who are caught up in Alton’s plight.
The connections to the films of Nichols’ youth is very evident in this movie (as well as the nods to them, the most obvious one being the solider named Carpenter, but there are some shots I picked up that gave nods to the films that influenced it), though gilded with a 21st century grit and edge, that, as the story progresses, gives way to wonder, something a film like this needs. You are not required to understand everything, it’s evident that Roy doesn’t understand all that is happening, just that he MUST help Alton. By film’s end everyone on the screen (and those watching) will be touched by the wonder, hope and love that emanates from the final act of the film.
By grounding the film in the gritty realism of child abduction and amber alerts in the first act, it allows for the leaps when odder things start to happen. Again, I’m not saying a word about them or the rest of the plot, I saw the trailer, and that was enough to make me want to see the film, I didn’t read anything else about it, keeping my knowledge to a bare minimum, and that is the best way to go into this one.
There is a visceral style to the film’s shoot, a tense driving need to get to their destination, though no one knows what will happen when they do, and all of it is set to a wonderfully quiet, poignant score David Wingo.
Currently enjoying a limited release in selected cities, this is one to be sought out. It’s a mystery and adventure to be enjoyed in the communal experience of the darkened theater, while bigger, louder blockbusters are already filling the mulitplexes for the summer, this is a gem to be reviewed, enjoyed and discussed when one tires of yet another disposable popcorn film.