"Midnight Special" Review
Intimate sci-fi adventure doesn't live-up to its title.
"Midnight Special” comes from “Mud” writer/director Jeff Nichols, who was clearly inspired by the sci-fi movies of his childhood when it came to crafting this script. And for the first hour or so, Nichols really makes you work to try to piece everything together. Normally that's a good sign of things to come.
Instead of a set-up, Nichols drops us right in the middle of a Texas Amber Alert. Eight-year-old Alton (played by “St. Vincent”’s Jaeden Lieberher) has been abducted by Roy (Michael Shannon). We’re not exactly sure why, or their relationship. Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a friend of Roy’s, is also involved.We soon learn that young Alton has special abilities, and that he is the spiritual leader and prophet of a local cult, which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been watching. Now, with Alton missing, both the cult leaders and the federal government want him, while his captors are trying to get him to a secret location for a major event. NSA investigator/interrogator, Sevier (Adam Driver, most recently seen - masked and unmasked - in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), is brought-in to try to help figure out the methods and the motives of the adductors. Kirsten Dunst plays Sarah, another important figure in Alton’s life and key player in his ultimate quest.
As "Midnight Special" was unfolding, a nagging thought developed in the back of my mind: “It can’t simply turn-out to be what I think it’s going to be.” But, sure enough, by the third act “revelation”, we get what was coming to us - and none of it is special (and I still don’t know how the title applies to anything in the movie).
Alton’s plight was intriguing enough early on, but once Sarah proposes a question to Roy with about a half-hour to go, I gave-up on the possibility of having any element of originality in the film's closing scenes. Driver’s character seems like he comes out of about a dozen other films in the sci-fi genre. And there's an obvious similarity between "Midnight Special" and an all-time classic movie (no spoiler here), and this new version comes-up way short.
At least Shannon, who’s been getting a lot of showcase roles lately (including “99 Homes”) gives a genuine performance. He is the only true bright spot in this otherwise complicated, but ultimately quite simple, disappointment.