Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Coming from the mind of director Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special is a mysterious tale of fantasy and drama that may or may not take its title from the old American folk song of the same name. The film follows childhood friends Roy and Lucas as they seek to safeguard the former’s son, Alton, from those looking to exploit the boy’s unusual abilities.
The narrative is kept compelling at the start by the ambiguity that surrounds the motives of the major players. It’s initially unclear as to whether Roy and Lucas are villainous or virtuous, which gives rise to an ominous atmosphere. This, combined with the enigma of why everyone is so interested in the child the pair are protecting, forges a fascinating first act.
The truth is teased in some visually stunning and shocking scenes on the way forward. It’s a shame then that it becomes increasingly apparent that Nichols has no more idea as to the true nature of Alton’s existence than the audience does, resulting in an underwhelming climax that tries and fails to hide its shortcomings under a veil of abstract cinematography and nebulous suggestions.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with leaving things open to interpretation at times, but there’s something that just seems sloppy about it in this instance. The narrative raises questions concerning science, philosophy and theology without offering any satisfying resolutions. All of the above themes are awkwardly thrown together in a frivolous attempt to make a meaningful movie. Unfortunately the finished product appears much more pretentious than it does profound.
Answers to abstruse enquiries aside, the film also fails to sufficiently flesh out the backgrounds of its key characters. It’s obvious that there’s more to Alton’s parents’ pasts than is shown on screen, which is frustrating because further exploration of their history might have shed more light on the motivations of the people from whom they are fleeing. Another issue is that neither mother nor father seem particularly curious as to how they conceived a child that demonstrates such strange tendencies.
Thankfully the actors involved fare better than the script with which they’re working. Michael Shannon endows the role of Roy with the right amount of distance and dedication, while Kirsten Dunst strikes a decent balance between being motivated and emotional as his estranged wife, Sarah.
Joel Edgerton is likable as Lucas; an everyman unwittingly thrust into an extraordinary situation. Adam Driver also does well as innocuous NSA employee Paul Sevier and Jaeden Lieberher puts in an impressive performance as Alton for an actor of his age.
The talent exhibited by the cast only makes Midnight Special feel all the more like a missed opportunity. It displays plenty of potential at the offset by implying that there’s more going on than meets the eye, but it never capitalises on any of the esoteric themes it touches. This leaves the impression that the reason for keeping the specifics of the story vague is due to lazy screenwriting rather than any genuine effort to provoke thought.
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