Writer/director Jeff Nichols proves again that he is one of the most compelling storytellers of our time with the sci-fi thriller Midnight Special. A provocative, genre-defying film as supernatural as it is intimately human, it follows a father, Roy (Michael Shannon), who goes on the run to protect his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy with mysterious powers that even Roy himself cannot comprehend. What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government.
Risking everything, Roy is committed to helping Alton reach his ultimate purpose, whatever that might be and whatever it costs, in a story that takes audiences on a perilous journey from Texas to the Florida coast, while exploring the bonds of love and trust, and the nature of faith.
When I first heard the song “Midnight Special” it became a permanent resident in my music vault of life. Of course, it wasn’t until I was older that the songs storied history and meaning were revealed. “Let the Midnight Special, shine her light on me” was deep rooted in the South often sung by prisoners and popular at hootenannies. I can’t help but wonder if writer-director Jeff Nichols drew inspiration from the very song I’ve loved for many years. The song “Midnight Special” is about the desire to escaping an unbearable situation. Serendipitous or not, the connection for me is real.
From the start, this Jeff Nichols film draws you in with it’s smart pacing and wonderful wordplay. The ambiguous themes at play work as a thesis for the ultimate conclusion of the film. Whether you’re religious or believe in inter-dimensional beings, Midnight Special excels at toeing the line with it’s subtle and carefully crafted ways. Supporting this is a wonderful soundtrack by David Wingo which explodes with harmonic pulses and electronic melodies that really is a perfect marriage to the visual wonderment that is Midnight Special.
For all of the wonderful praise I’ve given this film, none of it would have mattered if the acting wasn’t good. Thankfully, the performances are equally great and in particular Jaeden Lieberher’s portrayal of the 8-year-old Alton is excellent. Adding to this are the excellent performances of Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin (Alton’s father) and Joel Egerton who plays Lucas (friend of Roy’s).
Alton is a quiet boy who has a incredible gift that of course is believed to be divine. For the past two years, he has been living at a religious community called The Ranch, under the sect’s watchful leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Sheppard). Fearing for the boys safety, Roy and Lucas eventually abduct Alton from The Ranch in an attempt to take him away and rejoin him with his mom (Kirsten Dunst), who had previously escaped from the Ranch. After learning of the boy’s power, the military led by NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) believes Alton to be a threat to the nations security and wishes to acquire him.
It’s while they on the run that we soon discover how powerful Alton is. For most of the film, he wears goggles to protect his hyper sensitive-eyes from light and headphones to cut out sounds. After taking the goggles off, all hell breaks loose. A satellite comes crashing down and the earth rumbles with awesome force. The sequence was striking and visually awesome as Jaeden excelled at conveying a sense of agony and despair after realizing what had happened.
Upon learning that Alton must arrive in four days to a pre-determined (mysterious) location, we see a greater concern as Alton’s health declines while his powers erode his body. For the next four days they must avoid hit men and military attack helicopters to reach the final destination. It’s at that place where all the answers will be revealed.
Like the 1980’s Star-man, Midnight Special is that rare treat where real science fiction is front and center leaving overused green screens behind. I highly recommend this movie and as the song states, “Let the Midnight Special, shine it’s ever loving light on me”.
Rating: 5 Stars