Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard.
THE PLOT: Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a special kid; endowed with otherworldly powers, it seems that everyone is looking for him, including a cult with a mysterious leader and the government. To protect his son from those who seek to take advantage of him, Roy (Michael Shannon) takes Alton on the road, seeking coordinates that Alton received from an unknown source.
THE VERDICT: Director Jeff Nichols returns with another small film with a big heart, that celebrates the magical eerie feeling of the Southern US, as well as the feeling that dusk is a time where anything could happen.
Michael Shannon leads the cast as the tenacious and gentle Roy; there is a wonderful kindness in the way he looks after his young son, and it is clear that this is a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures, but he never loses sight of what he has to do. As always, Shannon is engaging and slightly odd on screen, but brings Roy to life with warmth and care. Joel Edgerton plays Lucas, a friend helping Roy to save his son, Kirsten Dunst plays Alton’s mother Sarah and Adam Driver plays FBI Agent Paul Sevier. Jaeden Lieberher makes Alton quiet but engaging; there is an air of something magnetic about the character, and Sam Shepard turns up as the cult leader Calvin Meyer.
Jeff Nichols’ screenplay plays with the idea of the otherworldly feeling of dusk, and this is a time of day that recurs throughout the film, as well as this, Nichols once again takes a small, odd slice of Americana and blows it up to full size on the big screen, ready to be examined. This time it is the strange phenomenon of small, localised religions, and what happens to the people that find themselves at the centre of them. There is the feeling that Nichols enjoys the journey more than the destination here though, with the finale of the film feeling out of step with the two acts that go before it.
As director, Nichols has fun with the film, allowing the audience to be kept entirely out of the loop as to just what, if any, special powers Alton has, until these are slowly revealed throughout the film. ‘Midnight Special’ is a road movie crossed with ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, but it is a fun journey to go on with these characters. The strange abounds and, although the finale of the film, as mentioned, is not necessarily completely satisfying, it is a thrill chase, but one that leaves more questions than answers.
In all, ‘Midnight Special’ is a film carried by wonderful performances from Shannon, Dunst, Edgerton, Driver and the young Lieberher, but the story feels a little convoluted and the final moments of the film raise more questions than give satisfying answers. Still, ‘Midnight Special’ celebrates Americana is an engaging way, and dusk is shown to be the magical time that we all believed it was as kids.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Midnight Special
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    After impressing greatly with his first three films (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud), Arkansas-born director Jeff Nichols has aimed higher and with more ambition for Midnight Special. The director also wrote the script as a reflection on fatherhood – and it’s that simple message that shines throughout this dazzling sci-fi thriller.

    Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is no ordinary boy. There’s something otherwordly about him, especially his dark eyes that shoot out blinding white light at various intervals. Recently growing up under the wing of adopted father Calvin (Sam Shepard), who runs a cult-like church, Alton is snatched away by his biological father Roy (Michael Shannon) and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). The trio go on the run along with Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and are pursued by the church’s own sinister members. They want to hold onto Alton, believing him to be all-powerful and a gift from a higher power. Also in pursuit is the Government, who have issued an amber alert with a cover story. NSA agent and scientist Paul (Adam Driver) tries to track down Alton, Roy, Lucas and Sarah as they head across the Deep South. Alton has to be somewhere particular within a few days or his very life may be in danger. But nobody knows just what he’s really capable of…

    Midnight Special is a throwback to 1980s sci-fi films in which decent, well-meaning characters were on a desperate midnight run from Government spooks – think E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, D.A.R.Y.L. and in particular John Carpenter’s Starman. It’s the latter that Nichols has tapped into the most – even stating that it’s his personal tribute to Carpenter. That even stretches to David Wingo’s evocative synth-based score. There’s no real danger that Nichols was going to ape those films religiously, for this is an original film that forges its own path and takes some unexpected and then revealing turns. To say anymore would be criminal.

    Being Nichols’ first studio film, there could have been a risk that the story would be compromised by too many car chases, explosions, predictable plot twists etc. The budget may have increased, but Nichols’ gift for strong narratives remains. He’s clearly made the film he wanted to make. This is soulful sci-fi, where the focus is more on character than spectacle. These are well-written, three-dimensional characters that we can root for and also want to succeed. The acting is excellent across the board. Working again with his muse Shannon, you can certainly see this film as a story about a father protecting his son at all costs – even without the sci-fi trimmings.

    Midnight Special takes its time to build up to its startling finale. However, given that we’ve come so far with these characters it feels well-earned and leaves you with food for thought. Midnight Special is something special and comes highly recommended – especially if you were a child of the 1980s like this reviewer. ****