When the government believes your son is hacking into their system to obtain sensitive government secrets, and a religious cult believes this child, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is their savior due to his mysterious powers. You would have no choice but to go on the run from both groups. This is what the father Roy (Michael Shannon) and family friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) decide to do, also in an effort to get Alton to a specific coordinate for an unknown reason but necessary due to how weak he’s slowly becoming.
Jeff Nichols returns here for his fourth feature film, after a brilliant start, Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud. Midnight Special is a science fiction film that carries a strong sense of wonder and amazement; it has drawn a lot of comparisons to the early work of Spielberg. An interesting concept of this film is how we are thrown into this world with little knowledge of why and what is even going on. Every step of the way we learn about a power of Alton’s or some dramatic irony that will put our characters at risk. Due to the film not revealing the true nature of his powers, it allows us to wonder how it could possibly be used in their defense from the men from the cult and the military.
The decision to not fully explain the nature of his powers was a good and bad decision. We all want to know what he can do. He’s not able to be in the sunlight, his eyes can glow extremely bright blue, and in a lighthearted moment of the film; Alton will start speaking multiple languages in accordance to a radio station. There are some people who can be completely enticed by the allure of the visuals, while some will find it as the film not going into enough detail resulting in a lackluster final product. While I don’t agree with the latter, it’s a valid point, but not completely true. If nobody in the film fully understands his powers, and we are in the passenger seat along with Roy and Lucas, we should have an equal amount of knowledge on the events, not more.
There are a lot of moments in the film that are low on the dialogue, which can cause the film to seem a little longer than it really is, but the true emotion lies in the facial expressions of the characters. Roy is a man who is on a mission and you can hear it in his tone, but also he looks focused throughout the entire movie. Whereas Lucas, gives the facial expressions of concern for certain individuals but can also switch to a serious attitude to get things done. The mother of Alton, Sarah (Kristen Dunst), she definitely brings a compassionate side to the story, which shows Alton has somebody who can give him affection. It can be argued that she doesn’t have much to do in this role, but I think on that affection alone, is a necessary enough component to have a mother in this film. Sevier (Adam Driver) was also a interesting person in this film, I can’t quite put my finger on why, but you were always rooting for his success
I don’t want to give to much away on the set pieceses in this film, but the gas station sequence is absolutely brilliant, and the decision to show the impact marks on the ground, made it feel super realistic. This is a clear moment in the film where a sense of wonder was achieved at it’s peak. The characters felt in real danger, and nearly made it out in one piece. It was great to be in the cinema, and become fully immersed in the events taking place. The break in scene was also compelling in a different way, it was abrupt, and once again you felt genuine fear for the livelihood of the characters.
In the hands of another director I feel like Midnight Special wouldn’t have been so special, and would have felt like just another Sci-Fi film, but you can tell from the opening sequence of this film; when the title appears on the car driving through the night, that this film will be something different. Nichols was able to subtly show that the theme of this film is the determination that parents have in order to help their children reach a certain destination. Through all the uncertainty of the future and risk it may present. I’m not a parent but i’m sure this can resonate heavily with a parent, or a person who has helped somebody along the way. Which ties back into the two different ways Alton’s parents expressed this emotion.
Midnight Special is a film that gets better with each view, though I’ve only seen it twice; I wanted to know more about Alton, and the life his father had before they all went on the run. I loved the final climax of the film, especially because it wasn’t just our main characters who noticed what happened but it showed the perspective of everyday civilians. I was fascinated and it made me wonder how will the human civilization change in response to this event. Will the government try to clear their minds? Will it catapult the civilization forwards, will nothing change? All these questions that aren’t answered, but i’m content with them because it adds to the mysterious allure.
Overall, this is one hell of a film, and it’s no surprise considering Nichols wrote and directed the brilliant film Take Shelter. I can also appreciate a director who choices to shoot with film stock. Midnight Special leaves us questioning events and powers which can prove to be brilliant and frustrating but, the acting, effects, and story all strike the right chord here making Midnight Special a memorable film.
My Rating: ★★★★½/ ★★★★★
Dir. Jeff Nichols
IMDb 7/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 83%
“I like worrying about you, Alton.”