Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, & Adam Driver
Basic Plot: A father & his unique son are pursued across the country by the government and a religious group, both determined to use the boy for their own benefit.
Review by Mike DeAngelo:
Indie director Jeff Nichols has been quietly establishing one hell of an interesting career over the past decade, starting with his first full-length movie Shotgun Stories (starring Michael Shannon), then on to Take Shelter (starring Michael Shannon) and Mud (starring Mathew McConaughey...and Michael Shannon). All of which are fairly small scale, character-focused indie films that have gained him (and Michael Shannon) more and more notoriety with each release. Midnight Special takes his signature indie style and applies it to a larger scale, Spielbergian sci-fi thriller, to mostly great results.
Jeff Nichols’ writing is always a bit sparse when it comes to expository dialogue – he’s a filmmaker that likes to say just enough for the audience to put things together themselves, while always leaving some questions lingering in the air. Midnight Special is no different, in fact, Jeff doubles down on that style here. It’s something that’s just not done much these days, especially in a sci-fi film of this scale. This in itself gives the film a feeling of being both old-school and something new all at once. I suspect it’s going to upset a portion of the modern audience that wants everything answered directly. I found it pretty refreshing, as glaring exposition tends to make me squirm in my seat – it also adds to the mystery and tension of the film, overall. Although, by the end, you can’t help but want a couple things answered. I suspect I’ll appreciate his choice to leave it up to the audience to fill in the blanks more upon repeat viewings.
As a director, this is Jeff Nichols at his most confident. He’s clearly swinging for the fences here and it would surprise me if he’s not handed some large franchise in the near future. I’ve heard they only spent around $18-20 million on this film – I’d love to see what Jeff could do with a $100 million blockbuster. All of his shots are extremely deliberate/interesting/gorgeous and he squeezes every bit of character, tension, and wonder out of each little moment.
It also doesn’t hurt that he’s working with Michael Shannon (his muse), Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver, as they all nail their roles. Michael Shannon, in particular, gives you another performance proving that he is one of the most interesting actors working today – period. It should also be noted that newcomer, Jaeden Lieberher, the lynchpin of the whole film, keeps up with the rest of the cast with ease. In short, there are absolutely no weak links in this cast.
All in all, Midnight Special is a tight, tense, interesting, and beautifully executed on-the-run sci-fi film. One that, while larger in scale, nobly retains its focus on intimate character beats over convoluted plot points. If you enjoyed early Amblin-era sci-fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., etc), this one’s for you. If you’re hoping for an alien/super-powered action-fest, while you might get a small taste of each, it might be best to adjust those expectations accordingly. This one’s for the head and the heart, not the muscles and balls.
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10 Mysterious Glances