I can’t remember whether the first time I saw a Michael Shannon movie was of him in Iceman, or Take Shelter, another Jeff Nichols-directed film. Either way it was a good way to start, although having said that is sort of redundant because Michael Shannon is always spectacular to watch. Whether he’s being subdued or going balls to the wall, he always nails it. Midnight Special is his latest vehicle, and just proves that he’s better and better with every film.
Midnight Special makes Shannon the father of young Alton, a boy with unexplainable powers. They cross the country, fleeing the cult they used to belong to as well as the FBI, and searching for something they don’t fully understand yet.
The plot is something reminiscent of a lot of the sci-fi and chase films of the 80s, but it still feels wholly original, perhaps because it is so softly spoken for a film. Midnight Special never relishes in itself with long monologues or huge scene-breaking explanations of events. You’re never force-fed information, and this will make or break the film for people. For me, it was incredible. It left you in the same position as the characters, and I felt like a detective every time I figured something out. If you don’t want to work for your movies though, this will bore the crap out of you. It does so much with so little, so if you can't handle the minimalism you'll want to explode.
The film doesn’t really have any villains either. Just a lot of people confused and fascinated by Alton, and all of them want him for different reasons. The closest you could come to an antagonist would be the cult that Alton is escaping from, but even then, it's never about villainy. The film is an excellent example of third dimensional characters, because it never paints the cult as a bunch of crazy kool-aid people, like Red State or The Sacrament. They’re a family who believe in something, and they’re scared of the possibilities that Alton brings. Even the FBI aren’t plotting anything, they’re just looking for answers, like everybody else. The one thing I wanted more of was Sam Shepard, who plays Calvin Meyer, the leader of the cult. He isn’t some psychotic Manson style dude. He brings gravity to the character, not just insanity.
The entire cast is excellent. Everybody brings an A-game, from the henchmen of the cult to the lackeys in the FBI. And with the understated storytelling, nobody seems to exist just because the plot calls for it. Everyone feels like a real person, with personality and emotion that seem to run way beyond the confines of the film. Michael Shannon is, again, brilliant. It’s one of his more subtle roles, but it’s perfectly balanced, between the caring father and the struggling believer. Joel Edgerton plays the accompanying best friend well, offering reason without ever feeling like he's just there to serve that purpose. Kirsten Dunst is also remarkable, and even young Jaeden Lieberher is excellent as young Alton. He’s everything the role demanded.
On the other side of the chase, Adam Driver plays an NSA guy, who inadvertently leads the charge towards Alton. His character was probably my favourite, because he didn’t come across as a straight up sceptic through the whole film. He was always in a place of doubt and wonder. He is the perfect amalgamation of Scully and Mulder from The X-Files.
Wrapping it up...
If you’re willing to dig into movies, this is a gem. There’s so much brewing in Midnight Special that 111 minutes felt too short for me. Although making a longer, more expository movie might just kill the magic that already makes it so special. If you can’t be bothered doing any deciphering and just want to absorb a little bit of something different, you should still go for this. In fact, in any scenario or mindset you should watch this film, because it's fantastic. But if you take the time to sit down and really dive into this movie, I promise you won’t regret it.
Midnight Special - 9.5/10