‘Midnight Special’- Family Turmoil In Smart Sci-Fi Thriller | Film Review
Midnight Special marks acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols’ fourth film, it has a thriller structure with supernatural overtones built on the familiar Nichols theme of family bonds and trust.
Michael Shannon is Roy, who discovers that his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) has powers that make him, in the eyes of some, a terrible threat. The worry comes from government agents (Adam Driver) and an extreme religious sect overseen by Sam Shepard’s driven leader. The government views Alton as a potential weapon, whereas the religious types think he is their saviour. Roy decides to go on the run alongside Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as it is vital to get Alton to a specific location.
It is clear the emotive theme of parenthood initiated the film’s creative process and the other major thematic contributor is the nostalgic mood and style of 1980s science fiction films.
For some the ultimate lack of answers may frustrate especially if not emotionally invested in the film but the film is sub two hours, there is no extensive backstory, the characters are well written allowing their emotions to convey their past and the audience is trusted to make vital connections. There’s an old saying “they don’t make them like they used too”, well Nichols does and it’s better than you remember.
Shannon’s father Roy has limited dialogue but holds such depth of emotion within his face his motivations are clear throughout. The lengths he will go to for his son are highlighted when reunited with Alton’s mother, an understated and effective Kirsten Dunst. The emotional bond between the parents is convincing with limited backstory, as with much of the film the bold decision is made to prioritise emotional character depth over fact and explanation.
The young Jaden Lieberher also flourishes under Nichols’ direction and Shannon’s intense interaction, but for me the two star turns are the supporting characters played by Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver. Both provide lighter moments allowing humorous relief within the tense high-stakes emotional journey. I connected most with Roy’s old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) who is as committed to Alton’s fate as his father. Lucas represents the audience as he knows and understands just as much. He reacts to the supernatural in an extremely pragmatic approach and as details of his past are revealed the magnitude of his sacrifice becomes evident.
The 1980s nostalgia generates a huge amount of good will and this lack of originality in style and mood won’t be for everyone. However, the emotional themes and competent visual storytelling demands a cinematic viewing. These themes trump factual explanation and the third act does have the potential to frustrate. It is visually creative evoking 1980s UFOs and a sunrise you will never forget, coupled with naturalistic but sparse special effects.
Nichols is one of the most exciting directors working today who has crafted his own niche to great effect.
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