Apart from the twist ending, which I felt to be rather cheap and unnecessary, I loved “Take Shelter” – which is why I was very much looking forward to Jeff Nichols’ and Michael Shannon’s latest collaboration. And while it didn’t exactly blew me away, and thus might not quite have met my very high expectations, I nevertheless found it quite entertaining.
“Midnight Special” definitely has a certain Spielberg-vibe to it, with its strong family-theme and the rather grounded science fiction-elements (both of which had me thinking of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and especially “E.T.”) – something that I very much enjoyed. However, during the film, I also felt myself reminded of other movies, like “Superman/Man of Steel” (the power of the sun), “Tomorrowland” (the idea of “a world beyond”, and its design), The “X-Files”-episode “Conduit” (a child “receiving” sattellite transmissions), “The Mercury-Puzzle” (A young boy who decoded higly classified messages is hunted by the government)), “Starman” (an extraordinary being that has to reach a certain place at a certain time, and who’s hunted by the government/military) and – of all things – “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (the overall story, and especially the ending). Usually, that’s not a big problem for me, but in this quantity, I found it to be a little distracting. I also have to say that, despite a couple of suspenseful scenes (especially the beginning), I never found “Midnight Special” quite as intense and gripping as “Take Shelter” (which really blew me away with its nightmarish mood). That we learn fairly early on that Roy wants to bring his son to a certain place at a certain time probably didn’t help, since for me, it ultimately was more about the destination than the journey. I just waited for them to finally get there, to see what would happen then. Furthermore, I think I could have done without that whole ranch-angle, and would have preferred if Roy and Sarah simply would have been a regular couple that, thanks to the special abilities of their son, suddenly get thrown into this extraordinary tale. And finally, since I’m not a religious person myself, I didn’t really connect with the faith-part of the movie.
So overall, I wasn’t quite as taken with “Midnight Special” as I was with “Take Shelter” – however, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. One thing that kept me engaged was that the audience only gradually learned what was going on, which kept the mystery alive for most of the running time. I was also very pleased to see that Nichols hardly ever talks down to its audience, and trusts them to figure stuff out for themselves, without drawing them a map. The cast also was quite excellent. While I was slightly more impressed by Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”, he still gives a really good performance here as Roy, who risks everything to make sure that his son reaches his destination. Kirsten Dunst was equally good as Alton’s mother, who has to face the fact that saving her son might also mean that she has to let go of him. And once again, I was amazed how good child actors and actresses are nowadays, with Jaeden Lieberher giving a great, natural, emotive performance. Joel Edgerton’s role isn’t quite as flashy, but seriously, who of us wouldn’t wish to have such a friend on our side? And I was really impressed by Adam Driver, who plays such a totally different role here from his Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens”, but is just as convincing as he was there. Jeff Nichols direction is also spot-on. Together with his cinematographer Adam Stone, he provides us with a couple of beautiful images and stunning sequences, like the fall of the satellite. David Wingo provides a fitting score that’s more about tension and mood than about providing leitmotiv-like melodies that you can hum afterwards. And finally, I was very glad to see that “Midnight Special” – in contrast to “Take Shelter” – isn’t a classic twist movie (even though there’s a certain revelation in the very last shot of the movie whose meaning is open to discussion). Ultimately, though, while I thought that it was quite nice, I wouldn’t exactly call it “special”.