'Midnight Special' Review
Midnight Special is about the journey not the destination
Midnight Special is a genre film, a magical sci-fi chase that’s every bit an ‘homage’ pic to 80’s Spielberg and Carpenter films writer and director Jeff Nichols grew up watching. What was originally conceptualized in casual conversation with actor Michael Shannon – ‘two guys, fast cars, moving from southern town to town, only at night.’ – Midnight Special, gradually transformed as a story based on the principles of fatherhood; the responsibility of doing right and the fear of letting go. A continuation of sorts from the familial bonds established in Take Shelter.
If you listen to recent interviews, you’ll know Nichols doesn’t view himself as an ‘auteur.’ As seen in previous efforts, Nichols doesn’t follow a conventional three act structure; plot is not a solution for clarity and clarity is not a solution for narrative drive. As a storyteller, Nichols cares about emotion, driven from a place and consumed by characters that shift those emotions onto the audience.
Midnight Special is about an extraordinary boy, living in an ordinary world
Midnight Special establishes its tone with an amber alert. The mise–en–scène is bleak, underscored by David Wingo’s vibrant and pulsating score. The sequence quickly shifts from dim to darkness; a minimalist sequence evoking a sense of urgency. Something menacing is present, and our leads must act now and think later. Nichols quickly reveals his proposition - Midnight Special is about an extraordinary boy living in an ordinary world, coveted by people with intricate motives. As the clues unfold, Nichols imprints the film’s resolution throughout the journey, not the end. Something I suspect some viewers may take issue with.
Sound and sight, this may be Nichols most celebrated effort. Complimenting Wingo’s score is Nichols longtime collaborator and DP Adam Stone. Technically, Midnight Special is an achievement for Nichols and his production crew. With over 300 visual effects at play, Nichols and Stone employed the use of VFX, which ultimately elevates Midnight Special from lo-fi science fiction to an aesthetic marvel.
Midnight Special is about the moments that define those experiencing the journey beyond
Remove the science fiction elements and Midnight Special is about the moments that define those experiencing the journey beyond. Its mission is earnest, fueled by good people. The sunrise scene with Roy (Michael Shannon) and Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), the subtle but wondrous interactions between Alton and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Agent Sevier (Adam Driver), and Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) are profound and heartfelt. These moments weight deep long after viewing . These are gifts that make Midnight Special so great.
Nichols next film LOVING will release in November 2016, in time for awards season. A reminder that awards can make a difference, considering the first film Nichols ever got paid for was Mud. At just 37 years old, we can only be so lucky to witness Nichols creative process unfold for decades to come.