Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.
Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.
That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.
But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.
And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.
We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?
To destroy the world, slowly but surely?
Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?
Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.
And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.
Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.
But hey, at least getting there is good enough.
Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire