If you are looking for something to help forget about the awful taste that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice left in some of your mouths, then let Midnight Special be your chaser.
This little science fiction gem is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who brought us great films like Take Shelter and Mud. His vision and unique storytelling is what shines the most in Midnight Special, but the 80s influences of E.T., Starman and even Close Encounters of the Third Kind trickles throughout Nichols’ well-crafted but completely bizarre film.
I don’t even know where to being in explaining what this film is all about, and nor am I going to attempt to. You want to go into this not knowing a single thing about the story, because as soon as the film starts, you will be whisked away into an old beat-up Chevy speeding down the highway. From there, the film starts to unravel mysteries, creates new ones and feeds you pure WTF moments.
Is this a science fiction film? Is it a thriller? What is it? It’s hard to label this as purely a sci-fi, as the film doesn’t fit or conform to any cinematic cliché or box. It’s Nichols’ creative writing that’s the true star here, and we’re just along for the ride.
Michael Shannon, who plays Roy, is a tour-de-force and commands the screen. It takes a while to warm up to him, because ultimately as viewer, we are thrown into the confusion from the very beginning. There is no nice set up or introduction to what is going on, and so you’re learning about who people are on the fly.
Joel Edgerton is also a scene stealer as Lucas. There are layers to Lucas, and just like the story unravels, Edgerton reveals more about the quiet and loyal friendship that Lucas has with Roy. The chemistry that Shannon and Edgerton have is off the charts, and anytime they are on screen together the film is better for it.
The entire ensemble cast is good in this film. Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the young boy named Alton, has a bright Hollywood career a head of him. Jaeden brings a natural honesty to the main character and absolutely shines, no pun intended, on screen. The way he is able to hold is own with Shannon, Dunst and Edgerton, is a true testament to the amount of work that this young actor puts into his roles.
Kirsten Dunst is also a breath of fresh air, in what I’m calling a comeback performance, and it’s nice to see her finally work with a great script again. She shines in a co-staring role as a strong mother presence who just wants her son to be safe, and at the same time wants answers.
Adam Driver falls back to his geeky persona that we’ve become accustomed to, but this time he’s a kind hearted NSA agent named Sevier, and not prone to temper tantrums in a galaxy far, far away. Driver reminds me of a young Jeff Goldblum, and in this film he brings a little bit of heart and playful curiosity to the role.
Adam Stone’s cinematography is gorgeous and sets the mood. A lot of this film was shot in the dark, but Stone’s 35mm camera work brings authenticity to the scenes and allows us to stay in that darkness; having no idea what might pop out.
David Wingo’s score is kick-ass, and just like the writing and cinematography, the music brings life to a dark and deranged story. The entire project is so well crafted that you can see that Nichols’ is a slave to the details.
This is one of those films where once it’s over, you will need to let it process before you can fully compute what you just watched. It will definitely linger with you, and while you ponder on it, you will start to appreciate the complexities of the story. It’s a mind melt, and not every question will be answered, because Nichols only reveals what he chooses to show you. That’s just how he rolls and it’s refreshing.
It’s unpredictable storytelling where the ending might be a problem for some, but maybe not so much for others. Whether you like the conclusion or not, in my opinion it’s the crazy journey to get us there, that’s where the pay off is.
I loved Midnight Special but it’s a film that will need to be seen a couple of times and that’s the genius in all of it. Like last year’s Ex Machina, this will be one of those special films that will spread through word of mouth and maybe pick up steam on Netflix or VOD. It’s on a limited release, so there will only be a few theatres in each city showing it, but do try and find it and check it out on the big screen – it’s well worth your time.
In a world of Hollywood reboots, it’s nice to come across an original story that delivers. I’m giving this a solid four out of five raindrops. A definite must see.
Midnight Special opens on April 1 in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal and April 15 in other markets. Rated PG-13