The experience of watching Midnight Special was akin to eating 50 Oreos with a humongous glass of ice cold milk. In short, I loved every single second of this fantastic film, but I’m not too surprised, considering how Jeff Nichols has only made quality films, with his sophomore effort, Take Shelter, registering as a masterpiece of introspective, existential cinema. He’s back in semi-ambiguous mode here after the solid if unsurprising drama Mud, and to be honest, I want Nichols to stick to this arena, the thought provoking genre bender that you can’t quite pin down. It’s a miracle that a major studio funded this film – bravo, Warner Brothers. There’s no chance of a sequel or lunchboxes or action figures with this one, and it seems to have been crafted with BRAINS as the motivating factor, not endless action scenes or noisy visual effects. Instead, the audience is treated to tantalizing ideas, smart dialogue and plotting, excellent performances, realistic family dynamics that propel the narrative, and CGI that’s used to enhance the story, and not act as the central focus. I loved the Amblin-ness of Midnight Special, and how it reminded me of John Carpenter’s Star Man and other nostalgic offerings from the 80’s, yet still made with modern panache and overall exquisite style, rarely ever calling attention to itself. The last 20 minutes are spellbinding in their ability to transport you out of the theater and into a movie world where you just have to know what’s going to happen next.
If you’ve see the trailer, that’s all you need to know from a plot stand point. There’s a strange and unique child being moved across state lines by two men with a variety of groups giving chase, and for some reason, the kid is able to emit light rays from his eyes. I’m giving nothing away that’s not shown in the trailer. And I’ll reveal no more. This movie has a ton of heart and honest emotion that worked me over like a baby, and a central performance from Michael Shannon that is compelling and totally riveting to observe. Jaeden Lieberher is equal parts spooky and sympathetic as the potentially dangerous cargo, while Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst are both very effective in supporting roles. Adam Driver nails his scenes as an NSA agent looking into the situation, while Sam Shepard has a cameo as a cult leader who feels that, for some reason, the boy is very special. David Wingo’s music is haunting and pulsating and delivers a serious punch, while the entire film has been shot with casual elegance by cinematographer Adam Stone, who clearly was favoring a lot of natural light, and knew exactly where to place the camera in some key situations. But the star of the show is Nichols, and his erudite sense of storytelling, never holding the audience’s hand too firmly, and always allowing for tantalizing bits and pieces from his heady narrative to remain unanswered, so that when you leave the theater, you’ll be thinking about the fine details for hours after the film has finished. I can’t wait to see this film again, and it’s very easily my favorite film from 2016 so far.
Review by Nick Clement