Midnight Special (2016)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on April 8, 2016 @ tonymacklin.net.

Midnight Special is one of those movies that make demands on their viewers.

It keeps you off balance. It invites you to suspend your disbelief. In many ways, it's like a brilliant episode of The X-Files.

Some may think Midnight Special is malarkey. But, if so, it's entertaining malarkey.

Midnight Special is a circuitous film. It wends its way through myth, faith, fantasy, and reality. It takes its time, and delivers an ending that is spare, given what has come before it. But the last images are a metaphor for what the film presents as the human condition. I imagine that Midnight Special is a film that reveals more on a second viewing.

If you are able to suspend your disbelief, Midnight Special can be gripping and transcendent.

Midnight Special is the story of a boy with special supernatural powers, who goes on the run. Alton (Jaeden Liebecher) is an enigmatic, mysterious 8-year-old. He can speak in tongues, translate data like no one else can, and control satellites and energy.

As such, Alton draws intense attention. He is considered a seer/savior by a doomsday cult called The Ranch. He is "kidnapped" from them by Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), and with Lucas (Joel Edgerton) - Roy's childhood friend - they flee on a desperate journey from Central Texas to Florida. Alton must arrive there, because of the coordinates he has revealed.

Pursuing them are a duo of armed members of the cult. Also seeking Alton is the government. It seems he can break secret codes and effect objects. They realize he has unknown talents, which they want to possess, understand, and utilize. But Alton is neither a savior nor a government source.

Alton is profound and vulnerable. He is still childish. He reads comic books and asks, "What is kryptonite?"

He has to get to Florida, and time matters.

Midnight Special takes us on a heady journey.

Director/writer Jeff Nichols is like director/writer Tom McCarthy, who just won the Oscar for directing Spotlight. Both Nichols and McCarthy stress the human condition. Their films are palpable with individual, personal visions.

Actor Michael Shannon has appeared in Nichols' four features. Shannon has a distinctive fallible quality. He's earnest, but quirky. [Both Shannon and Joel Edgerton are in Nichols' next film, Loving.]

Edgerton brings a strong Everyman quality to the weird goings-on in Midnight Special. He helps ground a film that at times seems about to lurch off the screen.

Also adding to the humanity is Adam Driver as the thoughtful NSA advisor. Kirsten Dunst is credible and substantial as wife and mother.

Jaeden Liebecher is convincing as the wonderstruck boy.

Nichols' Midnight Special is steeped in mood. Cinematographer Adam Stone and composer Dave Wingo enhance the film's evocative power.

In Midnight Special Nichols goes down his own murky path. It's dark, dusty, and wayward.

But it gets there.

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin