Hot Take: You can make a decent Sci-Fi film without laser rifles and space ships after all.
If you’re one dissatisfied to leave the theater with more questions than answers, Midnight Special might not be your cup of tea. If you’re one for film nostalgia, nods to the Sci-Fi work of Spielberg and Carpenter and The X-Files and some great performances, put Midnight Special on your list of movies to see for 2016.
While we don’t expect Midnight Special to make the year’s 10 best films, director Jeff Nichols’ entry into the Sci-Fi genre is an intriguing film with a lot of unanswered questions and memorable visuals with a throwback to pre-CGI Sci-Fi movies. Nichols’ mysterious story is fortified by great acting from Michael Shannon (a Nichols fixture), Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. Finally, there’s Jaeden Lieberher who already proved to be a great child actor in St. Vincent and might actually be better in Midnight Special.
The biggest knock on Midnight Special is the pacing. The opening scene is fantastic as we join Roy (Shannon) and his son Alton (Lieberher) on the run from authorities with the help of Roy’s friend Lucas (Edgerton). The scene is particularly inventive as the group finds out on the police scanner the description of their car has been reported so Lucas dons night vision goggles and kills the lights on the vehicle. It’s one of the few scenes that has a fast pace but the rest of the film doesn’t match the pacing of the rest of the film. While it’s not plodding, the slow pace can occasionally feel like a grind. Although the characters go out of their way to let you know there is a race against time, the film’s pacing never enforces that theme.
The film does manage to take science fiction and tie it into theology in a way that it is part of the film but not necessarily the central theme. Instead, the film centers on the father-son relationship and secondly the family relationship between father, mother (Dunst) and son. While there are plenty of other subplots, they all take a backseat to this very believable bond between Roy and Alton. While we are still curious about Alton’s special powers and where they came from and what he’s capable of, that relationship is actually more interesting than any other plot point in the film.
Again, Midnight Special isn’t a great film but it is a very good one with some performances that will be rattled off whenever the stars of it are discussed in glowing terms. While the pacing is occasionally frustrating and some of the questions left unanswered are vexing, Midnight Special does enough things right to make it one of the better films of the first half of the year.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Special Effects
There are a ton of cool visuals in the film despite Midnight Special‘s obvious modest budget. The film never relies on these visuals but uses them to enhance and propel the storyline. The effects come across as organic and very much real because of this.
- Michael Shannon
Shannon continues to turn in one stellar performance after another. He will likely be overlooked for his role in Midnight Special much like he was last year in 99 Homes but it is a memorable one.
- Inquiring Minds Want to Know
While you may leave the theater frustrated, you’ll definitely want to know more about the story and what it all means. It’ll definitely spark conversation if you see it with someone else and it’s the type of film that each viewer might take away something slightly different than the other.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Pacing
This film may or may not have pacing problems but it’s definitely a grind in parts. If the opening scene doesn’t pull you in, there might be no bringing you back as the film’s intensity ebbs more than it flows.