“Midnight Special” is the latest effort from emerging master Jeff Nichols

midnight special
Slowly but surely, filmmaker Jeff Nichols is becoming one of the more popular names in independent cinema. In fact, some pundits already claim that he’s one of the new masters of the medium. This week, he takes his first step towards the mainstream with the science fiction film Midnight Special, a unique movie that could introduce him to a wider audience. Nichols makes hard to define cinema, and this is certainly the case as well. There are genre trappings, but this is as much about the nature of faith and fatherhood as it is a sci-fi tale. It’s not perfect, but Midnight Special is one of the more interesting releases of 2016 so far.

The film is a strange animal, but certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. As it begins, we’re introduced to Roy (Michael Shannon), who is in a hotel room with Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Alton is under the covers reading a comic, but the other two are watching the television and looking outside, watching for something or someone. The TV informs us that Alton has been abducted and a manhunt is on. As the three hit the road and look for safe harbor, we learn that Roy is Alton’s father, that Roy took him from a religious cult that had legally adopted him, and that Alton has a special power, making him extraordinarily valuable to both the cult as well as the government. One thinks he’s a savior, one thinks he’s a weapon, but none actually understand him. As they travel from Texas to Florida, aided by Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), they’re pursued by members of the cult, led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), as well as an NSA agent named Paul Sevier (Adam Driver). It all builds towards a conclusion you definitely won’t see coming, though prepare to potentially leave with more questions than answers. Nichols writes and directs, with the supporting cast including Bill Camp, Scott Haze, David Jensen, Paul Sparks, and more. Cinematography is by longtime Nichols collaborator Adam Stone, while the top notch score is from David Wingo.

For me, the movie isn’t quite on par with Mud, Nichols’ last flick, but it’s better than the highly regarded Take Shelter. It also does include nods towards mainstream entertainment, especially when the trio and then quartet are on the run. This is very much a Nichols project though, and the acting/directing is what makes it work. The writing is slightly generic at times, but the performances and visuals, along with the sound design, are really on point. Shannon is especially great, portraying a dedicated father who doesn’t understand why his son is the way he is, but will protect him at all costs. It’s very moving, trust me there.

Awards wise, I think Midnight Special probably has an uphill battle, since its trappings are basically that of an old fashioned genre flick. Still, if it winds up making a few bucks and can get the critics on its side, I think Warner Brothers will launch a campaign. If so, look for it to try and compete in Best Picture, Best Director (for Nichols), Best Actor (for Shannon), Best Supporting Actor (for Driver, Edgerton, or Lieberher), Best Supporting Actress (for Dunst), Best Original Screenplay (also for Nichols), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects. I suspect that the only ones it could have a shot with are Original Screenplay and the Sound categories, but anything is possible.

Overall, if you’re a fan of what Nichols has done previously, I think Midnight Special will really work for you. If you haven’t been, or like me you’ve only been impressed once, this could be a step forward. It’s a quality title that deserves an audience. It’ll be hitting screens this weekend on a platform basis, so if it gets some solid support, we’ll definitely hear more about it as the year moves on. For now, it’s a unique film that’s well worth seeing. Especially if you enjoy cinema that’s on the different side of the spectrum, this should be for you. Give it a shot…

Be sure to check out Midnight Special, beginning its theatrical run on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Follow us

Breaking Hollywood News   


UPDATES BY EMAIL

Comments are closed.