Midnight Special: Expanding, by Rudie Obias
Midnight Special marks a turn in director Jeff Nichols’ career. As his movies (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud) progressively get bigger and bigger, Midnight Special blends his indie sensibilities when it comes to storytelling and characters, while playing to Hollywood moviemaking with big movie stars, heavy action, and larger-than-life special effects. Although the new film is Nichols’ major studio debut, it fits perfectly in the director’s growing and impressive filmography.
Midnight Special follows Roy (Nichols’ longtime collaborator Michael Shannon), a man who stops at nothing to protect his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from the clutches of a religious cult. Alton is special and has the ability to predict the future and look deep into the souls of others, while also being extremely dangerous to the world around him. The cult believes the end of the world is near and Alton is the key to God. Roy and Alton are joined by Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to make a cross country journey from Texas to Florida to stop the world’s destruction.
While most directors would focus on getting to the end point with plot and obstacles trying to stop Roy and Lucas from their goal, Jeff Nichols focuses on Roy’s relationship with his son and his struggle to understand why he’s meant for bigger things. Although there are plenty of heavy action beats and a subplot involving the Federal Government with NSA Agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) trying to make the country safe from an unknown threat, Midnight Special is really about a father and son on a journey to understanding and acceptance, which is why it will be the most thought-provoking and touching Hollywood movie we’ll see all year.
At the core of Nichols’ work is a question of faith and its role in society. Nichol’s continuously asks the question: How are you willing to take your faith and your beliefs? There are points throughout Midnight Special where it seems absurd to keep going ahead, but Roy never gives up. He believes his son is special, but never wants to fully embrace it because it would mean giving him up. There are plenty of parallels to Christianity, but Nichols doesn’t make it overly religious, if you don’t want it to be. And I think that’s the best thing about the film. You can take it at face value as a gripping thriller with great action and car chases, or you can look deep to find the religious subtext inside.
Michael Shannon’s body language and thought process throughout the film is sharp, consistent, and mesmerizing. Shannon has a reputation for being really intense in his dramatic work, and he really shines here. Also, young Jaeden Lieberher is quite good as a boy conflicted with being a child, yet understanding he has a greater calling in life. The supporting cast made up of Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver add color and drama to fully flesh out the story, albeit a little too singular to be realistic.
Nichols is proving truly a rarity as a Hollywood director who is allowed to have a distinct and interesting voice and style. I look forward to seeing more from him, and Midnight Special lives up to something worth seeking out and watching.