Midnight Special opens with Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) packing it up. They’re on the run and they don’t want to be spotted, so they’re vacating their motel room fast. With an Amber Alert broadcasting in the background, they gather their thoughts and belongings. In this confusion of swift movements, panicked faces and nervous energy, they look like a pair of tough guys running from the law. It’s uncertain if they’re truly in this for Alton’s sake.
Alton (Jaden Lieberher) is a boy with special abilities. He’s got eyes that radiate brilliant beams of light and the uncanny ability make people feel at peace with themselves. He can do things, marvelous things. And, while some people think Alton is their savior, others assume he’s a weapon of mass destruction, while still others call him family. Little Alton means a great deal to lots of different people and that’s why someone’s hunting all three of them down.
As it turns out, even Alton isn’t sure where all this is going. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that Roy and Lucas are determined to get Alton to a mysterious location and they're running out of time. A deadline is looming and no one knows what will happen if they fail to deliver. All they know is they have to try, even as the FBI and members of their own religious sect hunt them down. Midnight Special is the story of one special little boy's journey of self discovery.
Michael Shannon is stoic and intense as Roy. He delivers a performance that is equal parts stern, focused and noble. Shannon’s trademark intensity brings this character to life. In fact, he gives Roy the depth required to make this fantastical story work. Uncertainty is at the heart of every decision made and each step taken in Alton’s precarious journey and Roy's there to help him through it. Roy anchors that uncertainty, providing stability throughout the film. Michael Shannon is the reason Roy does this so effectively.
Joel Edgerton is earnest and vulnerable as Lucas, all while managing to be tough as nails too. Edgerton provides a needed buffer for the imposing intensity that comes along with Michael Shannon’s interpretation of Roy. Kirstin Dunst brings a sense of reality to this story that helps even the most outlandish details feel utterly believable. Her portrayal of Sarah Tomlin (Alton’s mother) was more than honest, it was gut-wrenching in spots. Finally, there’s Jaeden Lieberher as Alton. This young man is outstanding once more. He was brilliant as Oliver in St. Vincent and he’s just the right combination of creepy, kind and eerily detached as Alton in Midnight Special. Every single role in this film is cast superbly.
Director Jeff Nichols tells Alton’s story delicately, despite the unbelievable mayhem that envelops every detail. Uncertainty is a central theme in this film and we get to revel in it as we’re given bits and pieces of Alton’s puzzle to sort out on our own. There is no part of this story that isn’t carefully and precisely revealed. Nichols takes his time, and while a slow pace can easily become aggravating if not properly executed, he nails the delivery. You won't always be sure what the hell is going on in this movie, but that uncertainty only enhances the mood and pace of the Nichols' storytelling.
The delayed gratification in this movie is great, there's no doubt about that. However, I felt somewhat lost by the time the credits started rolling. I understood what was being conveyed, but I still left the theater wanting something more. The good thing is that this anti-climactic episode was brief. I suppose I was looking for a little more closure than what I felt had been provided. In retrospect, that might have been the entire point. I can't say for sure, but did I mention that uncertainty was a central theme? The compelling storytelling and thoughtful performances here make for an exciting and adrenaline-packed thriller. It's stimulating to see filmmakers creating new stories to tell and Midnight Special is one doozy of a tale.
Midnight Special – B
I’m willing to bet money (not much, like a dollar or something) you’ll enjoy this one.