“…less of a personal film than Jeff Nichols’ previous works, but that is not to say that it is in any way a bad movie.”
Last night I had the privilege of seeing Jeff Nichols’ most recent film, Midnight Special. Midnight Special is about a young boy who possesses special powers, which in turn makes him the target of various groups. I read an interview with Jeff Nichols that outlined the fact that he wrote Midnight Special with the intent of it being a stepping stone of sorts into more “blockbuster” type films. This comes at a cost, because Midnight Special feels like less of a personal film than Jeff Nichols’ previous works, but that is not to say that it is in any way a bad movie.
Midnight Special starts off with a chilling scene involving two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton) in a hotel room with all of the windows covered in cardboard. In the background there is a television broadcasting an amber alert for a missing child, the main suspect being none other than Michael Shannon’s character, Roy. The two men decide it is time to leave the hotel room and lift up a blanket that is between the two beds to reveal a little boy, who is contently reading a comic book while wearing earmuffs and swimming googles. I had to outline that scene because that is where the movie starts. It throws you into the deep end and leaves you gasping for air throughout. That analogy may not be the best because it has a negative connotation, but just know that I mean it in a good way. The story of Midnight Special is the first thing I will talk about. It is nice to have a movie with a plot that is completely new. I had no idea what this movie was about before I sat down in the theatre, and I’m glad. It was nice to be able to go on this ride, completely at the mercy of Jeff Nichols, not knowing anything about where the story was going or what the characters were going to do next. I can honestly say that this movie got physical reactions out of me. From my mouth hanging open, to me actually jumping when something happened on screen, it is fair to say that I was fully invested in what I was watching. I also found that the story was very reminiscent of old Spielberg films in that is was an adventure movie that always kept me in awe. Of course, Jeff Nichols’ writing has always been great up to this point, and this movie doesn’t change that. The one thing that I will say about the writing in this movie is that it didn’t go as in depth as other Jeff Nichols films. This isn’t a con for me, because I realize that this movie is trying to be different that other Jeff Nichols films. And even though the movie had arguably less substance that previous efforts by the writer/director, as far as movies go it still had plenty. My only worry is that if he tries to go any more into the “blockbuster” territory, then we will lose that charm that his films have. That being said, I’m not too worried about that because the next film by Nichols is the upcoming Loving, which is a piece about an interracial couple in 1958, and that sounds like he could do wonders with a story like that. The acting in Midnight Special was also great, as usual. Much like in Mud, the movie relied heavily on a child’s acting abilities and Jaeden Lieberher knocked it out of the park. Honestly, his character reminded me a little bit of Macaulay Culkin roles such as Home Alone and Uncle Buck. This helped bring some levity into scenes as well. Of course you also have Michael Shannon, who in my opinion is never bad in a role, but you also have Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst (who I was very surprised to see) and both of them also do great jobs as their characters. Much like previous Jeff Nichols films, I believe that every actor involved did a great job in Midnight Special. And now I guess I’ll talk a little bit more about the technical side of things. I thought both the score and sound design of the movie were phenomenal, and also the cinematography was great. If you have seen the trailer for Midnight Special, you will know that there are some instances where light is important to the story, and the way that it was used in the movie showcased it’s importance while not going over the top and still getting beautiful shots. Honestly, the big thing about this movie is I feel that any pacing issues Jeff Nichols had in previous movies were fixed. If you have read any of my previous reviews of Jeff Nichols’ films, you will know that I always have the opinion that his movies feel longer than they are. This isn’t usually a problem for me because the stories are so good, but there are definitely some pacing issues (for lack of a better term) that make the movies feel like a lifetime. Midnight Special had the opposite problem for me. Honestly, the movie flew by at a rate that I couldn’t even comprehend. I remember checking my watch during the movie and being genuinely surprised that it was almost over. I feel that, much like Jeff Nichols intended, this movie will open people up to his previous works, as well as put him on the radar for many people.
Midnight Special is not so much a movie as it is an experience. It was a very heartfelt, dramatic movie wrapped up in a layer that was so thrilling I was constantly on the edge of my seat.
I give Midnight Special an A