REVIEW: Midnight Special (2016)

Film Poster - Warner Bros.

Film Poster – Warner Bros.

The following is a review of Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special.

Jeff Nichols is one of the most promising young directors out there. His first feature film – Shotgun Stories – was an excellent low-budget revenge tale about brotherhood. His two other films – Take Shelter & Mud – are very impressive too, and they clearly show that Nichols is a very talented filmmaker.

With Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols has made his first film in the science-fiction genre, and it’s a film I’ve been very excited about for a long time. This was Nichols’s chance to make a film that would really get his name out there, but here’s the problem: it isn’t as good as it should have been.

In the science-fiction chase film Midnight Special, Roy (played by Michael Shannon) and Lucas (played by Joel Edgerton) have abducted a mysterious boy with special powers, named Alton (played by Jaeden Lieberher), and are now being chased by not just the FBI – led by Paul Sevier (played by Adam Driver) – but also by members of a cult dispatched by Pastor Calvin Meyer (played by Sam Shepard).

Now, I opened this review by stating that it isn’t as good as it should have been, but that does not mean that it isn’t good. When I first heard about this film, I thought it would be one of the best films of the year like Mud was a few years ago. I was let down a bit by this film, but it is definitely worth a watch.

But it isn’t without its flaws. The film works best when the protagonists are on the – very dark – road. When the film slows down and they make a few stops, then the film loses its way a little bit – especially after Kirsten Dunst’s character shows up – and Midnight Special doesn’t really ‘stick the landing’ at the very end.

I won’t say what happens to the characters, but while I really liked Michael Shannon’s final scene, I thought that the film was a bit too dull. I think the perspective of the film is what hinders it from really working with the terrific science-fiction elements of stories like this one.

There is no childlike wonder here, and that familiar magic that you want to feel when you watch films like this one is strangely absent. Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special is way too grounded to work as well as it should have. Midnight Special isn’t the film that is going to make Jeff Nichols the star director that I want him to be recognized as.

But the best things in the film are the acting performances. I mentioned that the film loses a step when Kirsten Dunst shows up, but that isn’t because she delivers a bad performance here. There just isn’t enough for her to do, and her character is surprisingly muted.

I liked Jaeden Lieberher in this film, and Michael Shannon shines as he always does in Jeff Nichols’s films. I really loved Joel Edgerton here, and he was just a really solid audience surrogate. Adam Driver was really fun to watch in this film. The film itself isn’t funny, but Driver’s performance elevates the film.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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