Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Sam Shepard
Midnight Special answers the question of what a “Jeff Nichols film” might look like on a larger budget. “It’s still a Jeff Nichols film,” he said at the packed North American premiere at SXSW. He wasn’t kidding, there are major notes from his two previous films Mud and one of my all-time favorites Take Shelter. Oscar nominee Shannon (99 Homes) has appeared in every Nichols film and again perfectly inhabits this new role. If Take Shelter teased the audience with suggestive fragments of fantasy and science fiction, Midnight Special explores those pieces more fully assembled. This isn’t a superhero film, although one might draw similarities between the X-Men character Cyclops (whom Mud star Tye Sheridan plays in the upcoming film) and Lieberher who emits a visible spectrum of light from his eyes.
Thirteen-year-old Alton (Lieberher) up until recently, had been living in a religious cult outside San Angelo, Texas. The church begin holding their services at night because Alton must sleep during the day. The church believed their young member to be a warning. Alton’s birth parents Sarah (Dunst) and Roy (Shannon) have always understood their son to be different, but continue searching for his purpose. The government now aware of his threatening unexplained, and potentially deadly gifts, the family isn’t safe. Sarah and Roy, along with the help of Texas State Trooper Lucas (Edgerton), will risk everything to ensure the safety of Alton as they struggle to understand what’s best for him.
Midnight Special maintains a distance between information, challenging the viewer to fill in many of the blanks.
Nicholas is one of the few directors who doesn’t feel the need to put a definitive period at the conclusion of his narrative. Nicholas is the independent version of Christopher Nolan, two directors who end their films with “dot, dot, dot”. “That way you and your friends can sit around discussing what you think it means all night long,” Nicholas said following the screening. Midnight Special maintains a distance between information, challenging the viewer to fill in many of the blanks. The origins of the story come simply from Nicholas introduction to fatherhood. The film maintains tension and suspense by leaving breadcrumbs for the audience to lap up instead of inundating us with backstory.
The Nichols/Nolan comparisons continue with their ability to derive honest and groundbreaking performances from their actors. His familiarity with Shannon at this point is second nature. Edgerton (The Gift) and Dunst (Spider-Man), new to the world of Nichols, deliver non-customary performances. It’s Lieberher (St. Vincent), however that really steals the show among the actors. In Take Shelter Nicholas visually explored paranoia’s effect on the family unit, here it’s fear that challenges the family dynamic. Midnight Special is a bigger, louder and larger Nicholas film, but what makes his pictures so immersing isn’t lost with studio funding and support.
Nichols’ answer to everything that is wrong with superhero movies.