Midnight Special is another great film from Jeff Nichols, who continues to prove he is one of the best young directors to watch; especially when he’s in the sci-fi genre.
Midnight Special picks up right in the middle of a mess of a situation. A young boy, Alton, has been kidnapped according to the television, but we quickly learn that the supposed kidnapper is the boy’s father, Roy, and that he is in the midst of a rescue contrary to the reports. Assisting Roy is an old friend, Lucas, who is there to help fend off the interested parties in Alton. Chasing them are members of the “Ranch” Roy reclaimed Alton from and the federal government who is just as desperate to figure out what is going on with the Ranch and this important date quickly approaching surrounding Alton.
If you are interested in really articulate sci-fi and plotting, Midnight Special might not be for you. The nitpicking types will most likely cry foul at some of the supposed plot holes, but Nichols isn’t so much concerned about those specifics as he is just letting the viewer experience this emotional race across the south from scene to scene. That said, I wish there were maybe one or two more puzzle pieces dropped in there for the viewer to play with as they try and piece everything together, but I never felt like the withholding of exposition ever remotely hurt the film.
I also appreciated the relatively gentle and positive approach to the film, that mostly shies away from getting into the darker material on the outskirts of this film. Now, if you want to read into it all, the film could be seen as a commentary on the dangers of religion, cultish ones in particular. There is a parallel to religious sexual abuse thrown in as well. Or how the military thinks everything is a weapon in today’s day and age, and then they want to make it their own. But Midnight Special mostly takes the route of how Alton can be helped, even from the government angle. The film only has a few set pieces, but each of them are very affecting and surprising. One in particular at a gas station had me in awe.
Nichols assembles another nice cast for Midnight Special, all of them playing behind his go to guy Michael Shannon as Roy. I love that Nichols doesn’t push Shannon into crazy guy mode like many other directors do, instead bringing out Shannon’s intensity through the many skills the actor possesses. The fatherly touch of Shannon also works well here, as he has excellent chemistry with the otherworldly presence of Jaeden Lieberher as Alton. Lieberher brings a life to Alton while still letting him feel different from everyone else, we buy there is something special in this kid and sit up and listen when he begins to assert himself. Joel Edgerton’s Lucas is sort of thrown into this mess, and he gets to play the audience surrogate of sorts as we experience everything for the first time with him. He also sells us on Lucas and Roy’s history, which is vital based on the measures at which Lucas is willing to go for Alton. Adam Driver brings the film some needed levity, and sort of steals the scene every time he pops up as an NSA good guy. Kirsten Dunst doesn’t get a bunch to do, sadly, but she and Lieberher are believable as mother and son in the brief time we get with them.
Midnight Special is sci-fi done right, as Nichols takes full advantage of all of his big moments at his disposal. The ending of the film is inspiring and hopeful that there is a better opportunity out there for everyone and our future. We may not quite understand the ins and outs of where Alton came from or where he is going, but we know it’s where he is meant to be. I can’t wait for Nichols to really break through and be given a big time budget, as he is on the verge of a real masterpiece sooner rather than later. Don’t miss Midnight Special.