Midnight Special

'Midnight Special' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 18, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jeff Nichols

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Add Midnight Special to the short but increasingly compelling list of reasons to keep an eye on Jeff Nichols, the director of Mud, an understated drama set on the bayou and one of a select few credited with reinvigorating Matthew McConaughey’s career circa 2013.

Yeah, no big deal. Nichols only ignited a revolution. (Not that the actor hadn’t shown promise before; McConaughey’s dramatic chops in The Lincoln Lawyer and Killer Joe are surely impressive but for the sake of argument let’s just ignore those right now.) It’s been three years since that much-talked about film and the spotlight moves away from the McConaissance and back towards the man in charge: what would he be bringing to the table this year?

Michael Shannon leads the charge in this brilliant genre-defying adventure involving a boy with a special gift that makes him the target of both a government manhunt and a religious cult convinced that the end of days is nigh. Shannon, in a comparably restrained capacity, plays a quietly conflicted man named Roy and is first seen held up in a motel room with his old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). (I know, that pairing is almost too good to be true . . .)

They have a child with them, by all accounts a normal-looking pre-teen and apparent fan of comics we first meet wearing blue goggles and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. This is Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher in an incredibly nuanced performance) and we’re not entirely sure whether he’s a victim of a kidnapping. We don’t even know what the men plan to do with him or where (or what) their final destination is.

What we do know is that the boy is precious cargo to both Roy and Lucas, evidenced in how they’re constantly shuffling in and out of the shadows between each location, and that his sudden disappearance from “the farm,” a closed community of religious zealots led by Sam Shepard’s Calvin Meyer and whose female population adheres to a strict dress code (braided hair, long dresses and muted colors), is significant enough to warrant the investigation of Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), a brilliant young NSA investigator working alongside the FBI. In fact the government intervenes during what was presumably going to be another of Meyer’s fire-and-brimstone sermons and begins conducting interviews with many of the members, looking for any leads to the boy’s whereabouts.

Nichols controls the pace of his boldly original screenplay such that we spend much of the earlygoing not even sure where our sympathies ought to lie: the way the government agents threaten the cult with the repercussions of committing high-level treason makes it easier to believe there’s a serious situation unfolding here. (You see, Alton is thought to have prophesied a doomsday event based on a set of numbers, coordinates perhaps, that correspond to the dates and numbers of certain sermons delivered by Father Meyer — numbers he couldn’t possibly know.) On the other hand, Roy and Lucas fail to exhibit any signs of behavior that make us worry for Alton. But just what is their end game? And why can’t Alton be exposed to sunlight?

At its core Midnight Special is a chase movie that pits the trio — soon to be a foursome when Kirsten Dunst’s Sarah, exiled from the farm years ago, enters the picture as a pivotal rest stop for Roy and Lucas late in the story — against a series of strange occurrences that threaten to derail their plans with Alton. There’s more than a whiff of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his brand of romanticizing the unknown even as Nichols continues to ground the ongoing hostage situation in reality. But science fiction isn’t the only flavor you’ll find in this little cinematic confection.

As Nichols continues peeling back the layers, the thick veil of clandestinity falling aside to expose a vision that threatens to become unwieldy — but that which stays on just the right side of ridiculous — we’re treated to a moving family drama as well as a cliffhanger of a government conspiracy thriller, one that bravely explores the borders of where discovery and science mesh up against religion and faith. In fact Midnight Special has so much going on within its relatively efficient hour-and-fifty-minute runtime the temptation to reveal more nifty details poses a greater challenge than does the task of assigning this thing a genre. So many cool things happen that I want to spoil right now.

But I won’t. I’m not that guy. (Or am I?) No, I’m not. But I really, really, really, really want to. Suffice it to say that Nichols’ latest is just one of those rarities that get you excited to tell everyone, including the person you’re sitting next to at the dentist’s office about. It’s an experience I’ve been longing to have for some time. I love Midnight Special, for everything it is and everything it is not. For all of the success it finds in challenging the brain while appealing strongly to the heart. I cannot wait to see what the guy does next.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 1.41.04 AM

Recommendation: Midnight Special marks the fourth film Jeff Nichols has directed (and written, to boot). He’s a promising young talent that likes dealing in real, flesh-and-blood characters and intriguing premises that keep viewers involved from start to finish. It’s also a movie that offers terrific performances, the most pleasantly surprising coming from the increasingly hard to find Kirsten Dunst. If any of that appeals, you need to check this one out. Pronto, Tonto. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “I’m always going to worry about you Alton. That’s the deal.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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27 thoughts on “Midnight Special

  1. Pingback: Midnight Special: Movie Man Jackson | MovieManJackson

  2. WOW! 8/8. That just about confirms that I have to watch the film no matter what! I’ve heard super reviews of this but yours is simply fantastic. Conspiracy, family drama and sci-fi meshed together? I have a thing for genre-mixes, and this looks to be that. Thanks for the review Tom!

    • Hey man, thank you. Yeah Midnight Special is all of those things, it’s a really great drama, being ambiguous enough to hook you in and gives you enough to work with to stay invested. The performances are stellar and it’s all just good man. I’m really excited about it. can’t wait for you and others to see it! 🙂

  3. Yes! Completely agree mate. Watched this a few days ago and loved it. I don’t understand why some people have a problem with the ending; I thought it worked fantastically well. Sterling stuff Tom.

    • Your praise is invaluable, good sir. Thanks. This is a pretty scrumdiddliumptious movie. And that ending really did work for me. I do see the angle where it perhaps paints too vivid an image that may otherwise be more powerful if left to the imagination but I was satisfied, bought into the whole thing, hook line and sinker!!

  4. I loved how the story revealed bits of information so that we gradually understand what’s going on. I liked it a lot. The only issue I had was with the ending. I can’t go into specifics because that’s would spoil the fun, but with a movie that’s all about the journey, we get a very specific destination. I liked the ambiguity. I would have preferred if it was handled differently. Overall a very enjoyable film. It’s just that resolution is the finishing misstep that lingers in an otherwise great film.

    • I’m not sure where else the movie could have gone. It was building up to something and for it to not end up showing what Alton was going on about I feel like that would be a very big tease, I would feel cheated I guess. But at the same time I see what your’e saying. It’s kind of the same thing when books spell out something for you when it’s probably best to leave the imagery or a certain event painted in the reader’s mind. Overall though I think I do prefer this over Mud. And I recall you didn’t like the ending to that one either. Recurring problem in his next film? 😉

    • Much appreciated sir. Funny, I’m on your review of it right now! Your enthusiasm for it is infectious!!! This was such a fun movie, I loved it

  5. I love that you love it. As we talked about, it is my favorite film of the year so far. And Nichols is one of my favorite filmmakers. In my book he is a perfect 4 for 4. And Michael Shannon, who has been great in all four of Nichols’ pictures, may be at his very best here. Such a great performance in my opinion.

    I’m really hoping this film can get a good sized audience. It deserves it.

    • It truly does. It’s such a nifty adventure, the acting is top-notch and in my eyes the finale was spine-tingling. It was either your or Stu’s review that said something about it having the potential to be a Spielbergian-sized blockbuster if it were released 20 or 30 something years ago, but in today’s era of sci-fi blockbuster (Star Trek is back in style, etc) it’s such a small and likely-to-be-overlooked/underappreciated release. Oh well. A treat for those who choose to see it! Have’t really read a bad thing yet about it. 😀

    • If that’s the case then you’re in for a definite treat Alex. Mud was good and I’ll have to go back and rewatch it (for the first time, I’ve only seen it once) but I think my gut is telling me right now that I MS is better.

  6. Wow – nice review, Tom! Glad you liked this one so much. 🙂 I’ve JUST watched it so am still processing my thoughts and all that. It’s really good! So glad to finally watch a movie this year that I really liked. 🙂

    • Yeah no kidding right? It only took until about 4 months in before we started getting actually quality releases 😉

      I’m glad you enjoyed this too. It’s so far my favorite of the year. Such a rewarding and soulful experience. Plus you really can’t beat the casting of Michael Shannon with Joel Edgerton.

  7. This film is getting such good reviews! I would like to check it out and see if I like it more than his previous work, so we will see. Great write up Tom!

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