With 2011’s Take Shelter and 2013’s Mud, director Jeff Nichols fashioned a couple of excellent films about regular people enduring somewhat unusual circumstances. He ventures even farther into unusual-circumstances territory with his fourth full-length effort, Midnight Special, a quite compelling sci-chase flick featuring his frequent muse, Michael Shannon.
Somewhere in Texas, Shannon and a childhood friend (Joel Edgerton) have rescued Shannon’s 8-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses unearthly abilities, from a cult and are evading local and federal authorities, and cult members sent to retrieve the boy, as they rush to get the boy to an unidentified location at a certain time where a world-changing event may take place.
Plot-wise, the film reminded me of 1984’s Starman, in which Karen Allen and an alien played by Jeff Bridges find themselves on the run from the Feds. It differs in that I wouldn’t quite describe the pace of the film as propulsive, despite the action component. It’s much more about the bond between Shannon and his son and what Shannon is willing to do for him.
There is a quiet urgency to the characters, though, which helps make the proceedings all the more engrossing. Quiet best describes the performances in general, starting with Shannon, who etches a fine portrayal of a man desperately trying to redeem himself. Kirsten Dunst, as the boy’s mother, lends nicely wrought regret, and Adam Driver proves perfectly cast as an NSA analyst aiding the FBI.
The relative realism of the drama also serves to make any violence, when it does occur, feel all the more alarming, especially when characters get shot. It also provides the bigger action—like pieces of a manmade satellite raining down on a gas station—with much more of a wow factor. And Nichols gives the car chases good, solid energy.
Nichols doles out glimpses of the boy’s abilities throughout—glowing eyes, instantly being able to speak foreign languages, nearly shaking a house to pieces—and does reveal why the boy possesses them. In doing so, he shows he can make smart, sensible use of CGI, especially toward the end during said world-changing event, which, like the film itself, he makes wondrous to witness. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 6/21/16