Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Kirsten Dunst & Adam Driver
Film review by Alexander Halsall
Following the success of writer/director Jeff Nichols’s previous features Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud is his first studio feature Midnight Special. Nichols is one of the most promising filmmakers to emerge in the last few years; he reunites with ever present actor/accomplice Michael Shannon in his latest feature.
Roy (Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are on the run from law enforcement for “kidnapping” Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), Roy’s son. At first the circumstances are unclear, beyond knowing that Roy is trying to get Alton to a certain location in time for an unexplained event. Along the way they reconvene with Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) whilst being pursued by the FBI, a religious cult that believe Alton to be some form of prophet, and an NSA agent (Adam Driver) who is drawn in to the investigation.
The first act of the film is intentionally restrained, posing us more questions than answers. Nichols doesn’t let us know the whole story; he feeds us pieces throughout the narrative as we are left wondering what it is that makes Alton so special, and what circumstances have led Roy and Lucas into taking Alton. Michael Shannon is, as ever, impressive in his performance as a father on a mission to protect his son. In order to deliver his son to this undisclosed location we see Roy is willing to disregard nearly all other things, including his own self and those closest to him, in his efforts. Shannon’s control and use of physicality in his portrayal of Roy allows us to interpret his character through limited exposition. Edgerton and Dunst are both suitably able in their performances, neither are the focus of Midnight Special but both fulfil the needs of the narrative. The peculiar NSA agent Paul Sevier (Driver) is an interestingly contort character, managing to seem both eccentric and introvert in one fell swoop. He is an outsider in the manhunt of Alton, and through his investigation we discover the effects of the boy’s ‘gifts’ in a wider context. Jaeden Lieberher has a lot on his shoulders at such a young age, but he delivers a thoroughly convincing performance, and shows an impressive range in displaying the personal trauma of Alton, whilst his connection with his father is the heart and soul of the film. Shannon and Lieberher’s bond is one steeped in intensity of feeling, of minimal melodrama, and is what makes Midnight Special truly special.
As the pieces are fed to you throughout the second act Midnight Special does become slightly less engaging, combined with a somewhat egregious sub-plot revolving around a religious cult that was somewhat unwarranted. Midnight Special evolves into a philosophical journey around the third act, trying to explore society’s perceptions of the unexplained, and the moral implications of fatherhood. Whether it juggles all this with complete success is debatable but that it tries to whilst still being an engagingly emotional sci-fi drama is an inspiring feat.
Nichols continues to delve between philosophy and drama with success, and armed with the beautiful cinematography of Adam Stone and the oozing melodies provided by David Wingo’s score, he has again masterminded an exciting piece of cinema. Shannon continues to provide evidence, if more were needed, of his fantastic presence, range and control as an actor whilst his connection with the young Lieberher, a talented youngster, created a compelling drama to behold. Midnight Special doesn’t quite manage to balance all of its ideas, but through the talents of the cast and crew manages to be both beautiful and succinct, touching and graceful and more importantly well worthy of your time.