Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Running Time: 112 mins
Release date: 8th April 2016
Midnight Special, the fourth film from independent filmmaker, Jeff Nichols, comes at you like a film stuck in the 1970’s. A sci-fi drama that plays out more like a human road movie than an out-of-this-world space saga. Many have compared it to Spielberg’s 1977 classic, Close Encounters. I would say it has as much in common with his 1974 first feature, The Sugarland Express. Either way, this is a small-scale, intelligent tale that, the least you know about the better.
Alton Meyer is a unique little boy who lives by night, wearing swimming goggles and ear protectors, who has been stolen from a religious community by Roy and his State Trooper friend, Lucas. On the run from the FBI, they are trying to relocate his mother while heading towards an unknown destination. Why is this boy wanted by both the government and the cult? Is he a weapon? God? Or something else?
Like Nichols previous films, Take Shelter and Mud, this is small-scale drama with grand scale ideas while at the same time dealing with the supernatural. Mud could have been the devil himself, while in Take Shelter, the apocalypse was possibly looming or was it in the mind of the lead character? Here we have a boy who has split not only a community but the government, leading to them question who he really is?
With a series of coordinates, which the religious community known as The Ranch, take as messages from God, along with the boy’s unnatural glowing and his inability to be in daylight. The FBI, however, are fearful that these coordinates could bring down the government, as they are connected to satellites. Roy, who could be the boy’s father, sees him as a son who needs his help and is willing to sacrifice his own life for his.
This is a glorious celebration of the cinema of the 70’s and 80’s. Nichols obviously nods towards Spielberg but also John Carpenter’s Starman, while still keeping in track the style of filmmaking that has made Nichols such an interesting and exciting talent. The pace is never break-neck but as he slowly drip-feeds us information, we become even more intrigued with the outcome. We have as much clue about the boy as everyone else in the film. Along with a smoldering plot, this road movie for the 21st Century manages to have the same feeling of paranoia that surrounded most of the films of the 70’s, except we are no longer in a time of Vietnam and crooked politicians, although we are now in a war against terrorism and
Along with a smoldering plot, this road movie for the 21st Century manages to have the same feeling of paranoia that surrounded most of the films of the 70’s, except we are no longer in a time of Vietnam and crooked politicians, although we are now in a war against terrorism and the possibility of a fanatic entering the White House. Nichols weaves his tale of a family on the run with the fears of a government who want the unknown stopped. What is refreshing is the main agent on the case, Sevier, is much more open-minded and is willing to accept rather than question.
As with all of Nichols’ films, the performances are first rate. Michael Shannon, a regular in the director’s movies, gives us a less intense performance as Roy, the man out to protect Alton. His is a quietly underplayed creation who is driven by emotion and fear. Joel Edgerton is equally interesting as Roy’s friend while Kirsten Dunst gives us another pitch perfect performance as Sarah, Alton’s mother. The film’s real star is Jaeden Lieberher, a nicely unpretentious delivery as Alton, a boy who is more than extraordinary. It’s a star-making performance.
Midnight Special isn’t your average sci-fi drama. It’s a slow-moving, thought-provoking film that is more about character than about events. The final does slightly underwhelm while the film it closely connected to had a huge wow factor but that could be because we are so used to large scale spectacle. As an ending, it does satisfy but maybe I wanted more. Having said that, this is still a mature, intelligent film and another positive from one of America’s most interesting new directors.