Film Review: Midnight Special

Midnight Special poster

Midnight Special Plot Summary:

A boy (Jaeden Lieberher) with mysterious powers is taken from a religious cult, as the alleged kidnappers try to understand his greater purpose.  The cult and government are hell bent on catching them in a desperate attempt to use the boy for selfish means.

I can’t remember a sci-fi movie where you get thrust right into the action more than this one.  The beginning feels like the fourth film in a series.  I mean that in a good way.  The first scene perfectly establishes what the stakes are.  You aren’t given a ton of information, but you get enough.  That’s the best type of science fiction.  Keep the mystery, but don’t go too vague.  We open with the alleged bad guys and this kid.  We don’t fully know their story, but we know this kid is ridiculously important.  As the plot slowly unravels, we are always invested.  Director Jeff Nichols, who also helmed the highly acclaimed Take Shelter and Mud, is a master at creating a tense mood and atmosphere.  Sci-Fi was a genre tailor made for Nichols, and he does not disappoint.

Midnight Special pic 1

One of the biggest criticisms I can levy is that the characters feel under written.  The film is inhabited with great actors who elevate the material significantly.  Michael Shannon plays Roy, who’s the real star of the show, other than the main kid.  There’s nothing special about Roy, other than his quiet determination, which Shannon captures brilliantly.  He doesn’t speak a lot, but you can tell through the performance he’s determined as hell in getting this kid to where he needs to be.  There’s also a deep affection he and the kid share, but it’s done so in a very subtle way.  His partner in crime is Joel Edgerton, possibly the most underrated actor working in Hollywood.  He’s flat out awesome, and the real heart of the movie.  I love how his relationship with Shannon is revealed.  While they dance around their friendship, there could have been much more written between the two characters.

Kirsten Dunst, who I’m normally not a huge fan of, delivers one of her better roles as the purest character in the movie, and a very easy person to latch onto.  One of the best performances in the film though is none other than Kylo Ren himself, Adam Driver.  His character really serves as the audience, as he tries to learn what all this is about.  You aren’t really sure what he’s thinking while he tries to piece all this together.  He becomes an essential character at the end, as well as a good source of comic relief.  Driver is a delight, and a guy who’s film career is really starting to blossom.

While a lot of these characters could have been written stronger, the entire movie hinges on the kid, Alton, and he’s really what drives the film.  As every scene progresses, you get another piece of information as to who Alton is.  While this happens, Alton begins to develop as a character.  Through his understanding of himself, he becomes more authoritative.  By the end of the film, he’s driving the entire narrative.  Jaeden Lieberher is fantastic in the role.  Jeff Nichols did a marvelous job directing kid actors in Mud, and he does it here once again.

Midnight Special pic 2

Aside from the acting, Nichols is great at catching you off guard.  Just as he did in Mud, there are several “jump from your seat” moments.  While there’s not a ton of action, any time there’s a lot of special effects, or a chase, Nichols delivers high octane intensity, but never goes over the top.  He keeps it simple and on the characters.

If you’re someone who goes to Sci-Fi movies for the big wow factor, and likes unlocking complicated mysteries, this is not the movie for you.  This is a more character driven story where the drama is centered around their reactions to all this crazy crap.  I love how there’s barely any exposition.  It jumps right in.  The end is very predictable, and it certainly doesn’t care to answer a whole lot of questions.  If the series finale of Lost pissed you off, I’d probably avoid this movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film because Nichols’ main concern was the emotion of the characters.  While I appreciate the subtleties, I wish he would have incorporated more Hollywood-esque type dialogue.  It’s almost too subdued at times.  This definitely could have used more Interstellar, but if you like small scale sci-fi, and don’t need every answer handed to you on a silver platter, I highly recommend this.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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