Review - Midnight Special
By midlandsmovies, Apr 27 2016 12:22PM
Midnight Special (2016) Dir. Jeff Nichols
Written and directed by Mud/Take Shelter helmer Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special returns to a more thoughtful slow-building sci-fi story the likes that haven’t been seen since Close Encounters and ET. The Spielberg parallels from those films are obvious – a dash of the unknown, father and son issues, covert operatives – but the it’s a refreshing change from the apocalyptic/A.I. settings of current movies in the genre.
Revolving around a boy called Alton (a terrific turn from newcomer Jaeden Lieberher), Midnight Special follows his ‘kidnapping’ by his father Roy (an intense as always Michael Shannon) and his friend and accomplice Lucas (Joel Edgerton). The boy is wanted by the authorities as he is believed to have powers beyond the realm of possibility. A Texan religious cult feels Alton is a religious saviour whist shady secret service agents give chase for nefarious ends – a concept that had echoes of The Day the Earth Stood still – but don’t worry folks, it’s nowhere near as bad as that.
As they drive across Middle America, the trio attempt to get to a location where they believe an extraordinary event will occur – we aren’t told exactly what – and the chase continues as the narrative splits between the groups. Adam Driver arrives as a more sympathetic agent whilst eventually Alton’s mother Sarah (a dowdy Kirsten Dunst) sees her son for the first time in two years after being excommunicated from the church.
The film is definitely set a slow pace. Intentionally this creates a deliberate framework to get the film’s many ideas across but it also allows the actors to fully engage with their characters. Shannon is excellent an intense and devoted father, Driver is all gawky awkwardness as a tender official and Dunst and Edgerton are superb with their supporting roles.
Although essentially a drama, the sci-fi element create a sense of wonder and unforeseen spectacle. Although these are few and far between, when they are shown – from beams of light from Alton’s eyes to a disaster at a petrol station – they have all the more power.
To say much more would spoil the experience but as they chase intensifies, violent encounters are edited alongside family-centred drama with believable dialogue and character conflicts before an awe-inspiring enlightenment at the film’s conclusion.
A supernatural thriller with a stunning piano-led soundtrack, Midnight Special takes an unexpected route to well-worn themes. Nichols has created an enigmatic film for those willing to stick with a cryptic cross-country cruise that doesn’t answer all the questions, but when done this well – it doesn’t need to.
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