The government and a group of religious extremists pursue a man Roy (Michael Shannon) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) a young boy who possesses special powers. Accompanying them along the way is state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton), and a woman (Kirsten Dunst). The government sees Alton as a threat to national security, while the religious extremists see him as their savior but what is Alton?
In the first few minutes we’re effectively introduced to the young boy Alton and his kidnappers, Roy and Lucas, who seem desperate but never come off as threatening. Moving motel to motel in a lousy old pick up truck wearing a cloth over his head and goggles over his eyes, Alton remains calm throughout. Roy and Lucas quickly learn that the kidnapping of this child is national news and move quickly to get Alton to his next destination. We don’t know who they’re running from or why, but we get a subtle hint of empathy in their performances that tells us we don’t know the whole story yet. It’s beautiful storytelling, and seems to lay the foundation for something different and special.
As far as performances go the cast is fantastic, as you would expect from the star-studded lineup. The standout performance in Midnight Special goes to Adam Driver whose screen presence grips and holds you like no other in the film. His scenes ooze with humor and the unfortunate reality of knowing what lies ahead.
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols has done a terrific job with his other work, Mud and Take Shelter, by always finding his voice as a moody slow-burn storyteller. With Midnight Special Nichols gives us a tense, edge of your seat sci-fi film, and maintains his voice throughout. The special effects never detract from the story or the character driven drama, though the lingering questions don’t allow the movie to ascend to “great” status.
The general problem with most sci-fi films is the high expectations to deliver on set-up, while providing solutions to the ideas it challenges. Ultimately, this is where the film falls short; they are one too many questions left unanswered. Jeff Nichols has a tremendous amount of skill and knows how to project compassion onto the screen of his movies, but he struggles with this sci-fi adventure. The emotional heft that many felt with sci-fi flicks such as E.T and Close Encounters of a Third Kind will be left wanting more. Midnight Special provides an entertaining sci-fi adventure about family, but leaves too many questions unanswered to feel truly satisfying.
Midnight Special fascinates with it’s mystery and journey, but lacks emotional punch due to a glut of unanswered questions.
3 1/2 Stars: Good
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.