Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver
Jeff Nichols is without doubt one of the greatest contemporary American directors. From his enthralling Mud to the eerie Take Shelter, Nichols takes on the supernatural drama genre with finesse and precision, making his new film Midnight Special a special experience that easily cements him as a director that can successfully carry a big budget blockbuster.
Opening on a boy wearing goggles and headphones and two men who seem to have abducted him, the film soars when it keeps it simple. By giving us this image and playing on the expectations of the audience, Nichols does well in turning this story into one about humanity and family connections, with added religious cults and government investigations for tension and drama. Alton (Jaeden Liberher) is the emotional core of the film and its star, a dazzling display for the young actor and the perfect choice for Nichols. Despite him being relatively quiet and his powers downplayed for much of the film, Midnight Special is a thrilling adventure that’s more heart than special effects or UFO’s.
Nichols’ ability to drop the audience into the action and still keep them interested, revealing tidbits here and there throughout the film, is a testament to his power of storytelling. Alton’s abductor Roy (Michael Shannon) is strong in the secondary role, with viewers able to feel the real connection between him and Alton. His friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) is strong, though not a role that will be remembered as time passes. Alton’s mum Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) comes across as a little one-dimensional but too her dedication and commitment to Alton is affecting.
Midnight Special feels like a downplayed sci fi film and that’s what makes it so unique. With touches of Spielberg and Shyamalan, Nichols has created a contemporary, emotional alien film. While much of the details of the film can be lost in translation to the audience, it doesn’t make it any less impactful. For this reason some viewers may be exhausted with the lack of information provided and will compare the film to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., though this film makes it own twist on the genre successfully.
The film does lose momentum at the end, and the explanation after a feature full of questions isn’t satisfying and detracts from the familial drama present throughout. It’s action scenes are spot on, as is the emotion at the centre of the film, but lacks a wider sense of wonder and otherworldliness. Despite this Nichols succeeds with Midnight Special that is undoubtedly excellent cinema.