Midnight Special Movie Review
A genre-bending, science fiction, mystery, Midnight Special is a tension filled breath of fresh air delivered by Jeff Nichols. Artfully acted, methodically paced, and complemented wonderfully with minimal but wholly effective visuals, Midnight Special is a must-see film to captivate all audiences.
There once was a time when an original science fiction or fantasy film wasn’t even given a second thought. Not the release of a film for either genre, but simply being recognized because it was original, with no origin in comic books, religious metaphors, or a culture’s folklore. In today’s Hollywood, films such as those are a near afterthought, with only scant options coming through the major studios a few times per year at most. The advent of the comic book, superhero, young adult, and science fiction/fantasy franchises have chased original ideas out of the mainstream and forced them to pursue the avenue of independent films in order to get their film made. As recent films like Oscar winner Ex Machina have proven, this is not always a bad thing. By taking himself out of the Hollywood system, writer/director Alex Garland was able to make the film he envisioned without a need to cave to studio pressure and put out a brilliant, visually appealing film, enough to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, for ten percent of its competitors in the category. There is an old saying that, “Less is more” and more, and more frequently this is proving to be true. And not just for science fiction or fantasy films, but Hollywood as a whole. This is the kind of film that Jeff Nichols delivers with Midnight Special, and it is the kind of movie that does not happen nearly enough.
Midnight Special is not a typical fantasy or science fiction affair; at it’s beating heart is a story of a father and son, and what lengths that father will go to in order to protect his son from those who would seek to take him away or abuse his gifts. The supernatural elements of the film loom ominously on the horizon throughout the runtime of the film but act as a mere device through which the story revolves around and not a necessary intersection throughout each scene. The boy around which the film revolves named Alton Meyer, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is a gifted child, but what makes him equally interesting is just how ordinary he can be during bouts of quiet reflection or even reading comic books. What truly makes him special is not revealed until late in the film and although important to the climactic finale, it is more the relationship between Alton, his father, and the other characters around them that make the story as captivating as it is. Michael Shannon delivers a powerful performance as Alton’s father Roy, showing the stern qualities he has become known for and even a softer side not often seen by the veteran actor. Joel Edgerton continues to prove his progress as a dramatic actor in his supporting role as Lucas, a friend assisting Roy in keeping Alton far from those who seek him out. Adam Driver’s role is small, but plays a key part in the film, even providing some of the small moments of humor in the script. Kirsten Dunst likewise provides a strong performance in the latter half, though more screen time would have been a welcome addition for her character.
Despite its modest budget for a science fiction film-$15 million dollars-Nichols and the special effects team offer solid visuals that belie its otherwise quiet content. In many ways, Midnight Special is a bit of a quandary as it does have some grand moments of visual splendor, but they are never overblown and are saved for the truly appropriate moments. Cinematographer Adam Stone does fantastic work in helping craft a film that feels like a product of the 1970s and 1980s, but also is visually sharp and includes plenty of breathtaking frames. For audiences seeking a big budget, science fiction spectacular, there is bound to be some disappointment when they instead find a more subtle, dramatic film; although the marketing has wisely chosen to leave out a great deal of the visuals and focus more on the mystery behind the story. Similarly, there are bound to be some who are unhappy with the direction of the ending that does answer many of the questions presented earlier in the film, but some could find a bit too fantastical for their liking.
While Midnight Special is not what would many would consider a “perfect” film, there are very few glaring flaws to count against it. The story is tightly wound and leaves appropriate parts to the imagination while giving a satisfactory amount of answers. The cast is excellent, particularly Shannon, Edgerton, and Lieberher. Nichols does a great job directing the film in its quietest moments and its grandest. The score by David Wingo is a beautiful mix of haunting tones that compliment the film wonderfully. Nichols proved that great original science fiction films still entirely possible in a script he wrote by himself, but with plenty of influence from genre holdovers Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Midnight Special may not be for all audiences, but those going in with the proper expectations are in for a nearly once in a generation imaginative treat.
Midnight Special is written and directed by Jeff Nichols and stars Jaeden Lieberher, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, and Sam Shepard.