It has slowly become a special event to me now when a new Jeff Nichols film comes out. Many of you may not have heard of him, but he is the writer/director films such as Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and 2012’s magnificent film, Mud. I could never understand why his films were never as big as they deserved to be. Sure they have all been loved by critics – with Midnight Special being his lowest rated, currently sitting at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and his highest being Mud at 98% – but they are never big at the box office. Mud is his most successful film at $32 million worldwide. They aren’t big effects films or anything, but they tell very human stories featuring great actors without ever feeling like an independent film. His talent has not gone unnoticed however, he has been approached numerous times apparently to direct big movies (mainly involving superheroes), but has turned them down. I am totally fine with that. I truly hope he continues to write and direct his films the way he wants, finding a studio who believes in him enough to market it well. Soon enough, I believe he will catch on and his films will get a wider release. My theater was full on a Sunday afternoon and, even though I had to wait nearly a month for the film to reach anywhere near me, I hope people continue to try and find quality films out there. Sorry for the rant, let’s talk about the film itself.
First off, I am not going to talk about the plot of the film because much of it is a mystery, and the trailers have already given too much away. This is a stretch from the director’s normal films, with him focusing much more on a sci-fi story line. It’s got a little Steven Spielberg here, a little John Carpenter there (notably in the score), mix in Nichols’ talent for writing fascinating characters and you have one film that is going to be hard to top this year.
The cast here is impressive. Jeff Nichols always gets the absolute best out of Michael Shannon, perfectly utilizing his focused intensity as well as his tender side here. His relationship with his son (played by Jaeden Lieberher) is one of the best aspects of the film. The history of their relationship is never spelled out for you, but simply through the actors’ performances, you can tell how much they care for one another. Joel Edgerton is also great here, getting a number of scenes where he gets to show what he can do as an actor. He really fits in with the stories Nichols frequently creates, and it’s no surprise he will be in the director’s next film as well. Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver are also great here, with Driver providing some of the much needed comic relief during some tense scenes. Sam Shepherd also shows up here in a small but important role, and it’s always nice to see him. Shepherd also showed up in Mud, giving a history and intelligence to his character in both films.
Overall, this is an absolutely beautiful film. There are so many things I would love to discuss here, but I always preferred reviews that don’t give away any details about the film itself. Here’s what I like about it and why I liked it…here’s what I didn’t enjoy. That’s all I feel needs to be said. The actors here are note-perfect, the music is fascinating and very reminiscent of John Carpenter, the cinematography is beautiful, and the story is intriguing. While it may not answer every question to everyone’s liking, this is a very powerful sci-fi film with more human elements than most. I feel my only real problem with it is that it seemed to start a bit slow because we are thrown into the middle of this story in progress and I didn’t know what was happening. However, that is a very minor nitpick that I am sure will go away upon another viewing. I didn’t quite have the same feeling as I did after Take Shelter or Mud, the feeling that I had just seen a perfect film. On the other hand, Midnight Special has really stuck with me these past few days and I have a real need to see the film again. So take that for what it’s worth. I feel this is a film that you will think about long after it ends, and I strongly urge everyone to go see it.
For those of you who have seen the film and were hoping that I would talk more about the film itself, I am sorry that I am not. The film unravels in such a great way that I don’t want to give away anything. If you would like to discuss the film, please email me.
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes