Midnight Special, 2016.
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Sean Bridgers, Bill Camp, Paul Sparks, and Sam Shepard.
A father and son go on the run after the dad learns his child possesses special powers.
Stephen King once wrote “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” In other words, the supernatural and unexplained should not always have to be explained. An audience’s focus should be more on the effect of the supernatural than the cause. While that benefit some stories, Midnight Special suffers from far too much ambience. If you come to the film hoping for a good sci-fi tale you will be disappointed. But thanks to some heartwarming performances and good direction, Midnight Special still sets itself apart from generic tales.
More than anything, we are introduced to a story about a father doing anything for his son. But this boy in question is more than just an estranged family member. Young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a boy of extraordinary ability that is beyond anyone, including his family and the U.S. Government. His abilities were first discovered by his father (Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon) who, unable to comprehend what his son is experiencing, initially gives his son to a religious cult for adoption. After a sudden change of heart, he kidnaps Alton back to accomplish a mission to deliver Alton to a location that is imperative to discovering the source of his power.
Alton’s father Roy has no idea how to react to any of this. What he does know is that shortly after taking his son back an Amber Alert was released and both members of the government and the religious cult that fostered Alton want him back for their own nefarious reasons. Heading the search by the U.S. is Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) who comes off surprisingly innocent, simply being curious as to how Alton does what he does. The cult on the other hand is more desperate, thinking that Alton is the voice of God and is determined to bring him back by any means necessary. As all three parties move forward to an inevitable clash, the stakes get higher as Alton’s health is thrown into jeopardy and his powers continue to develop. No one cause seems completely in the wrong or the right and the moral grey areas are balanced well by the screenplay and Jeff Nichols direction.
The dynamic between Roy and Alton feels gripping and legitimate, creating the emotional center of the film. Roy comes off as stern but not unfair whereas Alton obviously loves his father but knows he is destined for more than being on the run for the rest of his life. Another interesting relationship lies between Roy and his friend/state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton). Roy is willing to go as far as he needs to in order to save his son but Lucas is still a cop at heart. Whereas Roy could care less about human life at this point, Lucas tries to minimize the damage. The two clash on numerous occasions but it never reaches a tipping point that I was hoping for. Things start to heat up between the two only for it to die back down again. It’s disappointing because a blow up between the two could have tested the bond between the two.
The largest issue with the film is that there are next to no answers as to what everyone is fighting for. We know Alton is special, we see that he has the ability to sense and understand things that no one else can, but we are never shown why or how he does any of this. There is the potential for a huge universe here but none of it is realized. Maybe Nichols decided to keep it as simple as possible to focus more on the father son relationship but if you want to make a sci-fi you have to give up something. By the end of the film we are left with almost no answers and an unsatisfied feeling of having no closure. If you can take the story for what it is, a story of a boy and his father, then you will find plenty to enjoy. Otherwise, steer clear.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★