Midnight Special is about a father, Roy (Michael Shannon) who kidnaps his own biological son, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) from a doomsday like cult that's led by Alton's adopted father, Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). With Calvin believing that Alton is the key to their judgment as some sort of messianic figure for 'the ranch' of believers. Roy doesn't share that same belief, and with the help of his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) they abscond with Alton and head to the coordinates that Alton has been relaying to them. Practically every arm of the government (and the ranch) are tracking Roy, Lucas and Alton all the way to their destination, so Roy turns to the few people he can trust, one of them being his wife Sarah Tomlin (Kirsten Dunst) who refused to watch another man raise her child at the ranch, for help. Meanwhile Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) of the NSA has been charged with interviewing all the members of the ranch as he slowly begins to grasp the extent of the supernatural abilities that Alton may, or may not have.
Midnight Special is an extremely personal, intimate and grounded story that always stays with its characters and their journey. Despite its massively ambitious scope in a minimalist "superhero" movie that's as riveting as it is realistic. It retains a tightly wound sense of mystery, curiosity, wonder and the strength of emotions, especially between a father and a son.
Jeff Nichols (director and writer) who I personally believe is one of the top directors of the 21st century, manages to balance the verisimilitude of the awe-inspiring with the cynical, yet idealistic beliefs we struggle with every day of our lives. I'm not just talking about belief in the sense of religion or theology either, it's something more innate than that, something more undeniable. Midnight Special is probably the closest we've come so far to a Close Encounters of the Third Kind for this generation, and it parallels a lot of other sci-fi movies too, all while still feeling like an original and unique entry into the genre.
The script was taut, maybe too taut for some as it relies more on what it doesn't say, than it what does say. The cinematography is wonderfully deft and atmospheric. The score by David Wingo perfectly captures the esoteric and incomprehensible nature of Alton and pulled all the right chords with me. The vfx are a little wobbly in some places, but it's nothing drastic. Just to put some things in perspective Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which Midnight Special is tonally similar to, had a budget of $18 million in 1977, Midnight Special had a budget of $18 million in 2016. It still does an exceptional job with the money it has, but its perhaps not as refined as some of the other, more expensive movies would have been. Jeff Nichols wisely stayed away from using too much vfx though, only using it when he absolutely had to.
I don't think the script was especially difficult to follow but it offered very little exposition, which seems to be a big problem for a lot of people lately. Spoilers! Alton is part of a race of dimensional beings that exist on a different wavelength or frequency to us. The possibility remains that they are us evolved many times over. whatever the gene is, Roy has it himself as you can see his eyes glimmer at the end, it's unmistakable, though clearly it's equal to the same potency that his son had it, but it is there. It could be possible that it's merely Alton trying to communicate with his father, but I don't think that's the case, I think it's more than that. End spoilers!
Despite all the well-worn themes and tropes of the sci-fi genre, Jeff Nichols finds a way to make Midnight Special feel fresh, thrilling and surprisingly unpredictable. The character development was more reliant on the 'in the moment' situations than it was with basic exposition. This could leave viewers feeling detached with the characters I think, but you are given enough to understand what they're doing as the movie goes on, but it requires patience and attention. If you're expecting some X-Men or even Chronicle type superhero movie, don't, Midnight Special isn't that sort of movie. The ranch sees Alton as their savior, the government sees Alton as a weapon, whereas Roy sees Alton as his son and is trying to do his best by him, no matter what the cost may be. Midnight Special is a story about family, bonds and beliefs, the superpowers are largely inconsequential to the core of the movie.
Written by - The Sentry - 22/04/2016