In recent years, Jeff Nichols has emerged as one of the most talented filmmakers working in Hollywood. Even though he’s directed just three films (excluding this one), there’s a level of intimacy and even greater level of emphasis on character to be found in all three of his films that make them uniquely compelling and riveting to watch. His films are especially distinctive interms of how they talk about family bonds and father/ son relationships, set against the backdrop of the American heartland. And Michael Shannon almost always seems to have a role that realizes the terrific talent and potential the actor truly possesses.
Midnight Special is Nichols’s first studio feature and while it is considerably more ambitious then his previous work and unique in it’s own right, it also finds him exploring some familiar themes which make his films so great.
The film stars Michael Shannon as someone who at first seems to be a kidnapper, a non-custodial father who’s grabbed his own child. But then the film moves forward, we realize he, along with his old friend Lucas played by Joel Edgerton have actually stolen the kid away from a doomsday cult, and the boy, Alton played by Jaeden Lieberher possesses special powers. Soon enough the U.S intelligence agencies are after Alton too and it’s up to Roy to get Alton to a certain place that will guarantee him safety.
Midnight Special is a pretty good movie. I don’t think it’s as good as Mud and it doesn’t nearly rise up to the greatness of Take Shelter but it definitely has a lot of interesting things going on, that for the large part outweigh it’s flaws.
What works best about Midnight Special is how well it functions as both a straight-up Sci-Fi chase movie and a story about family. The bonds of family are once again explored very well that add a lot of heart to the story. Despite a somewhat slow first act the film picks up and the latter half of the film is both very compelling and pretty entertaining. One thing that Nichols is particularly good at is creating great characters without giving them a lot of exposition or that many lines to work with. And the performances from Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst, Adam Driver and youngster Jaeden Lieberher are uniformly good aswell, that compliment Nichols’s script quite well. Shannon is particularly great in a wonderfully subdued and restrained performance as Roy, Alton’s surrogate father, while Jaeden Lieberher serves as the film’s emotional core as Alton and does a great job of displaying both wisdom and naivety very well as the young boy.
Despite that though, there are a number of things that hold Midnight Special back and stop it from being a great movie. For one thing, the story-telling is often murky and the pacing drags, particularly in the first act, which did make the movie a little confusing and boring at times. I also think the film misses out on a number of opportunities with a number of sub-plots and story elements that could have added to the film’s intrigue had they been explored properly.
Altogether though, I think Midnight Special is a pretty good film that explores some very intriguing ideas, doesn’t explore others too well, but almost always manages to stay engaging and captivating thanks to the rock-solid performances and Nichols’s assured direction, a director whose career continues to go in even more interesting directions.