Midnight Special

Directed By: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, and Jaeden Lieberher

Shotgun Stories.  Take Shelter.  Mud.  These films are all the product of a singular director-actor combination, that of visionary Jeff Nichols and his muse Michael Shannon.  The third time apparently wasn't the charm as the dynamic duo is back together again on the big screen with this weekend's Midnight Special.  For his fourth collaboration with Shannon and his fourth feature film in general, Nichols is in good form.  There is one big difference this time around, however.  All of Nichols' previous films were independent productions.  Midnight Special, on the other hand, is a studio movie with a budget of $18 million.  After a few good films over the last decade, Hollywood is finally starting to take notice of Nichols.  Well, it's about damn time.

An AMBER alert has been put out for an 8 year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher).  This isn't your typical abduction, however, and it's not because his captors are his father Roy (Shannon) and a friend of the family named Lucas (Joel Edgerton).  Fleeing the ranch in Texas where Alton resides, the trio is making its way east for something special that's to happen on March 6th for the boy.  To get there, they need the help of Alton's biological mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst).  Various federal law enforcement agencies make their way to the ranch where Alton resides, and chat with Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), the man who shepherds the flock at this ranch.  When NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) questions Meyer, the government learns just how special Alton is with his supernatural, otherworldly abilities.

There is no denying that Midnight Special is a fascinating film.  The creative science fiction mythology at the core of the movie, the endearing performances from our lead actors, and direction from Jeff Nichols that oscillates between tender and thrilling all make this film something worth seeing on the big screen.  Given its rather unique premise, Midnight Special is the rare film where I have no idea where it's going, and that's what makes it so watchable.  That being said, I'm not a fan of scenes just driving in the dark with no material developments whatsoever.  This certainly helps to build tension, but a film also needs more visual stimuli at times.  It's both a strength and weakness of Midnight Special.  Still, this isn’t a deal-breaker as Nichols's latest feature is wholly original and downright refreshing in the era of sequels, reboots, and formulaic big budget spectacles.

I've got to give Nichols credit for the deft filmmaking here in Midnight Special.  He really put his studio budget of $18 million to good use.  You can see it in the otherworldly visuals he employs throughout the film to craft a world we can't quite see.  You can hear it in the eerie score at play that amplifies the constant sense of paranoia.  You can feel it in the tense but emotional atmosphere that he cultivates time and time again throughout the movie.  Yes, Nichols utilizes numerous cinematic devices in crafting his latest feature, and it pays big dividends.  Midnight Special is a mostly captivating feature that delves into interesting territory.

The cast delivers the goods as well.  In his fourth collaboration with Nichols, Michael Shannon once again rises to the occasion.  As Roy, he's a loving father who provides the kind of paternal care and kinship that Alton needs in these dangerous times.  This frequently reflects itself in the ferocious protective instincts Shannon puts on full display throughout his performance.  For her part as Alton's mom Sarah, Kirsten Dunst gives a melancholic yet warm performance as this ordinary loving mother full of regrets.  Under the extraordinary circumstances in which her character is placed, Dunst nimbly wears the shame of guilt while providing the other characters loving moral support.  For his part as Alton, Jaeden Lieberher gives a fittingly aloof performance as this mysterious child figure possessing supernatural powers.  He's intuitive and full of surprises.  This is definitely a tough act to pull off for a kid who was just eleven years of age when this was filmed.  Finally, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver provide intriguing performances as they transform into believers over the course of the film.

Midnight Special
gets a 0.03% rating.  It's truly a one-of-a-kind movie.  Don't miss this one.  Have some wine coolers while checking it out.