Friday, April 8, 2016


For the last five years leading up to Midnight Special Jeff Nichols has toyed with science fiction (Take Shelter), tall tales & fairytales (Mud) and just all around ambiguity (Take Shelter), so it was just a matter of time before he went all in and made a full-on science fiction drama (southern-based/Terrence Malick-ian Christianity & spirituality has also played the background in every one of Nichols' films so it wasn't a surprise that those elements showed up in Midnight Special as well). What's funny is that Midnight Special kind of picks up where Take Shelter left off in an abstract/slightly reworked way. It's like Michael Shannon's paranoid opinions in Take Shelter came to be true and now he has to act on them in the next film.

Midnight Special is the story of a "gifted" little boy (Alton) with magical powers that has to get to a special/significant place (with the help of his parents, played by Michael Shannon & Kirsten Dunst) before the FBI and/or a religious "organization" get to him first (of course the FBI wants to use him as a weapon, while the religious cult, led by Sam Sheppard, believes he's the messiah reincarnated in the form of a seven year old boy come to take all believers up to heaven).

What's frustrating about Midnight Special is that it gives off this vibe that it's not going to be like all those other science fiction movies where a special alien kid with magical powers has to escape the government that wants to use it/him/her as a weapon and/or test subject. But not only did Jeff Nichols end up making a modern/revamped version of E.T. or Mac & Me or The Boy Who Could Fly or any other movie that generation X & generation Y grew up on, but at times it felt like a feature length back-story for one of the X-Men...
(*SPOILER* the final climactic scene where Alton makes contact with other worldly beings is literally right out of the ending of Close Encounters and/or The Abyss *SPOILER*)

Look...I’m not the biggest Jeff Nichols fan but I do appreciate that a filmmaker of his ilk got the opportunity (and budget) to make Midnight Special rather than someone like Brett Ratner, Zack Snyder or Bryan Singer, but still - this film forces me to use cliché critic terms & keywords like "hack", "retreaded material", "slightly unoriginal", etc (it even forces me to do the cliché critic thing by taking shots at obvious targets like Zack Snyder, Brett Ratner & Bryan Singer). 
But perhaps it wasn't Jeff Nichols' goal to make an "original" film. There's only so much you can do with the basic source material that is Midnight Special. What this film does have going for it is that it is a true family film in the sense that it can be enjoyed by most ages. With the exception of two isolated moments of quick gun violence (with minimal bloodshed) there isn't any nudity, harsh language or inappropriate subject matter for little kids. As for the adults, Midnight Special isn't fluffy or made for 5-13 year olds. The dramatic aspect in Midnight Special is enough to keep the attention of any adult. Imagine elements of early David Gordon Green, Goonies, Badlands, live action Disney films, all the other aforementioned movies in this review thus far mixed together in a giant pot. While that may not sound appealing to some of you, to others I imagine the combination of all those things sounds pretty intriguing.

And maybe it was Nichols’ intention to tip his hat to all those classic movies in the same obvious way Refn, Jarmusch & Tarantino pay homage to films & filmmakers in their respective works.

Midnight Special / Starman

Along with the dark-ish/bottom heavy synthesized score (courtesy of David Wingo) Joel Edgerton’s performance as Shannon’s best friend “Lucas” is the only aspect of Midnight Special that I enjoyed without any criticism. Lucas is an interesting supporting character in that we didn't get his entire story, but we’re given enough information about him to know he’s an incredibly loyal person. It’s not so much that Lucas aids Dunst & Shannon on their mission to save their son by putting himself in danger numerous times, but it’s the fact that he puts his life on hold at the drop of a hat to help his best friend (Shannon) without any reservation. There’s no question that once the credits rolled on Midnight Special that Lucas has essentially ruined his life just to help people he has no obligation to (he broke quite a few laws; one of them being the possible murder of a state trooper) but that’s the kind of loyalty & friendship that I appreciate on a personal level as fucked up as that sounds (at no point in the film does Lucas expect anything in return for his services either). Some people might find Lucas’ motivation to be a little weak and I totally understand that. However, in the unlikely situation that my best friend showed up at my door unexpected with his young daughter (my goddaughter) and needed my help in the same way Shannon needed Lucas’ help, I’d probably drop what I was doing to help my friend. So no matter how many negative things I have to say about Midnight Special (and there are plenty), it obviously touched me on a personal level if it got me to think about people like my best friend and my goddaughter, so this isn’t a total “failure”. Edgerton’s role is easy to overlook in a film like Midnight Special with all the grandiose moments of glowing eyeballs & craters falling from the sky, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet I urge you to try and pay attention to the Lucas character.

I guess Midnight Special is the best thing Nichols has done so far but that doesn’t mean much coming from me (I’m not that crazy about his movies). I will say that there is a progression with each of his films. He dips his foot in the water deeper & deeper with each movie, and there are multiple continuous/consistent elements that start with Shotgun Stories all the way through Midnight Special (the presence of Michael Shannon, the exploration of spirituality, sanity, the south, etc). I just have yet to be completely sold on him.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...