Midnight Special

 photo midnight_special_zpstoozevoh.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgRoy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are waiting for the sun to go down in a darkened motel room. A television is on in the background. As we listen to a news report, we learn these very men have kidnapped an 8-year-old named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). He sits reading comics with bizarre blue goggles over his eyes and noise canceling headphones on his head. Day turns into night and now they’re on the move again. A religious group and the federal government are both involved as well. Everyone seems preoccupied with the fate of this special little boy. It’s not even clear for awhile where our sympathies should lie. For example, is Roy a good guy or a bad guy? To even reveal that would be a disservice to the story.

The pleasure of this slow burn thriller is in the way it slowly disseminates information so that the audiences gradually understand what’s going on as developments arise. Our minds are held captive by the truth. The trick is how much to reveal and how soon. Midnight Special does a pretty outstanding job at keeping us interested for the majority of its run time. It’s fascinating how “wanting to know more” fuels our appetite. There are well placed reveals throughout and these have the power to satiate our desire. Director Jeff Nichols shows remarkable restraint. The full scope of the chronicle is a gradual understanding.

Less is more. If you were to boil Midnight Special down to its very essence, it’s essentially a chase movie. But there is beauty in simplicity. Nichols has always been a visual story teller and his latest is no different. This is his 4th directorial effort. The drama manipulates sci-fi into a tale about family. The spirit of Steven Spielberg permeates the account. As such it’s Nichols’ most accessible movie. Actor Michael Shannon has been featured in all of the director’s films. He’s appropriately intense. Kudos also to young Jaeden Lieberher as the enigmatic little boy. He was the central child at the focus of the wonderful 2014 comedy St. Vincent as well. What keeps Midnight Special from achieving greatness is that you ultimately need to have some sort of an ending. That’s the difficult part in a narrative that’s all about the journey. I liked being in the dark, but the script ultimately betrays its own ambiguity. It gives us a destination.  This could have been handled differently. The resolution is a little too, hmmm shall we say, specific in this case. It’s the finishing misstep that ultimately lingers in a movie that is mostly captivating.

03-31-16

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10 Responses to “Midnight Special”

  1. I enjoyed this very much. However, I do agree with you about the ending. Could have been more amazing and emotional. I give it 4 stars

    • Apparently there has been some grumbling from audiences that the movie didn’t answer enough questions. I actually wanted something even MORE vague.

  2. Looking forward to checking this out. Not very familiar with Jeff Nichols but I really loved Mud.

  3. Nice review Mark. I’ve enjoyed Nichols two previous pictures and hope to see this soon.

  4. Nice review Mark. Just posted mine and I loved this film. Honestly I had no problems with the ending. For me it cleverly offers a conclusion and ambiguity all at the same time. I do think there are certain characters who stories deserved a little more attention. I won’t spoil anything but Adam Driver specifically comes to mind.

    • The scenes betwen the NSA agent (Adam Driver) and the little boy (Jaeden Lieberher) are so comically delightful. I could have enjoyed more of that too.

  5. Midnight Special sounds like a fantastic slow burn thriller. I like that you give a good sense of the type of film it is without digging too much into its plot. However I am bummed to hear that it betrays its own ambiguity at the end. Still, you’ve gotten me very interested in seeing it.

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