Once in awhile, Hollywood manages to surprise me with an uncompromising film full of genuine emotion and enough to make you really think. Powder was completely unexpected: it's easily one of the best films I've seen all year.
Something of an updated, hybridized E.T., Powder is the story of an albino teenager (Sean Patrick Flanery) with strange powers of telekinesis, empathy, and the ability to channel and absorb raw energy. As Powder says, "I'm not like other people." That's putting it lightly.
His mother is struck by lightning before Powder's birth, and he is born premature, an apparent freak of nature. His redneck father will have nothing to do with him, and Powder ends up in his grandparent's basement until his teens. When Powder finally emerges from hiding, the small Texas town has no idea what to make of him, and typical of Southern paranoids, he is immediately ostracized as a social deviant.
It soon becomes apparent that Powder is more than just an extremely pale kid, as some subtle and not-so-subtle changes begin to take effect, and we find that the outcasts among us can really be the greatest of people. Powder reflects the deconstruction of all that's wrong with society, and the film manages to hammer home its messages of peace, tolerance, and the cessation of fear without ever becoming preachy.
Powder manages to take this kind of story to new and better heights than its predecessors. Powder is a recluse, but unlike Nell, we can understand and sympathize with him. Powder is the embodiment of virtue, but unlike Forrest Gump, he is not just a victim of circumstance. And Powder is imbued with supernatural ability, but unlike E.T., we can relate to his persecution on an individual level.
Powder probably deserves a dozen Academy Award nominations, especially for Flanery's jaw-dropping leading role. The makeup, which had to literally be painted on, is almost surreal, and writer/director Victor Salva (who's done virtually nothing before this) deserves my highest praise. The special effects are groundbreaking, the camerawork (shot in and around Houston) is excellent, and the supporting cast of Jeff Goldblum, Mary Steenburgen, and Lance Henriksen is solid.
This probably isn't a film for the brain-dead hordes of moviegoers looking for mindless eye candy. It requires a little commitment on the viewer's part, but it's well worth it. In the end, Powder is a stirring example of what to do right, not only in filmmaking, but in living one's life as well.