Midnight Special Review
"Not that special "
is a science fiction mystery drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols. It's a low-key movie with a slow burn approach and despite strong, committed performances from its talented cast and a gripping first act, it ultimately fails to deliver both emotionally and in terms of the narrative.
The plot centers around Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy with unexplained powers and abilities that is on the run from the government with his father Roy (Michael Shannon).
The movie opens with Roy, Alton and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), already on the run, but it takes its time to tell us why and from who. The mystery of Alton is slowly unpacked throughout the story, as we find out more and more about the nature of his powers and what they mean.
It's at the very start, when we still don't know much of anything about these people and their predicament that Midnight Special
thrives. It had my absolute, undivided attention as I was trying to piece together some sense of context from the limited amount of clues I was provided.
All good mysteries work not off the strength of the final reveal, but of the journey to that reveal. Being kept in the dark and trying to work things out is the cornerstone of these types of stories - otherwise people would always just skip to the end to see what happens.
Unfortunately, this is something Midnight Special
seems to forget by the end. The more answers the movie gives, the less interesting it becomes. The science fiction Michael Shannon's aspect of the plot turns out to be surprisingly pedestrian and lackluster. A key scene at the very end of the movie that's supposed to be awe-inspiring, just felt fell lifeless and dull.
The sci-fi plot overrides the emotional core of the movie, which is the family drama. Roy is a father who's willing to do anything for his son, but it's clear that the sheer scale of what's happening to his family is pushing him to his limits. The same can be said for Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), who is Alton's mother.
Yet Midnight Special
rarely taps into those strong, conflicting emotions, opting instead to focus on moving the plot forward - and even that it does a poor job of, with an underwhelming resolution and a notable lack of tension or stakes in the second half.
The mysterious cult built around Alton that is introduced early on as a possible threat unceremoniously disappears from the movie completely after a tense encounter. After that, the only thing standing in the way of our main characters is the government, which isn't villainous or antagonistic towards Alton - they're just extremely cautious about a kid that can bring down satellites with his mind.
It boils down to the classic E.T.
story - Alton has to go where he belongs and our main characters have to take him there by facing impossible odds. Yet in E.T.
we saw how poorly the government handled the situation. We knew for a fact that E.T. would be treated horribly and might even die if he doesn't escape.
The stakes are far less clear cut in Midnight Special
. The movie suggests that Alton might die because of the nature of his powers, but also shows how he could, for a lack of a better word, recharge and get better again. Plus, his powers are extensive enough that I never felt he was in actual danger by anyone or anything other than himself.
Members of the cult foreshadow some kind of doomsday scenario that could result from Alton's actions, but that goes absolutely nowhere.
It's a movie that really should have committed to either fleshing out the science fiction a lot more, or exploring the family caught in the middle of all this. It tries to do both and fails to deliver.
Aesthetically speaking, Midnight Special is a dark, minimalist movie that makes the most out of a small budget. Most of the movie takes place at night, either on the run or behind locked doors and boarded windows, with only the third act opening things up by being set during the day.
It's a very atmospheric movie that sets the right tone early on and runs with it for quite a while.
The writing is minimal as well, with condensed characterization that relies largely on the strength of the performances of the cast. Thankfully, everyone brings their A-game.
Overall, I was rather disappointed by this movie. It started off with a great deal of promise, but any investment I had in the story or the characters was completely drained away by the time the movie limped along to the finish line. Midnight Special
ends up being one of the worst things a movie could be - really boring.
- Strong, committed performances from all the actors
- The tense and gripping first act
- Makes the most of its small budget
- Disappointing and unfocused second half
- Lackluster resolution