"Midnight Special" Brings Back The Magic of Film

By Scott Kurland

Film: Midnight Special
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Kirsten Dunst, and Sam Shepard
Rated: PG-13
Director: Jeff Nichols

As a generation of movie goers and critics, I feel as though we’ve gotten too comfortable titling directors. I too am guilty of this faux pas. We’re so starved for original filmmakers and new artist that, when they emerge, they are immediately lauded as the new “insert famous director name here”. We’ve declared J.J. Abrams the new Lucas while Martin Scorsese declared Wes Anderson the new Scorsese. Thats right, even the directors themselves are participating in this name game. I bring this up because this week’s film “Midnight Special” is being compared to classic Amblin produced movies of the late 80’s and early 90’s; which of course has people titling director Jeff Nichols “the new Spielberg”. Let’s find out if this is true shall we?

“Midnight Special” is the story of Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), a man on the run from both the government and an unnamed cult. Roy is aided by his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as they try and hide the one thing that both the cult and government want, his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Alton possesses unique abilities which are interpreted by the cult as the Lords will, whereas the government  sees them as a threat to national security. Only Roy, Lucas, and one NSA Agent (Adam Driver) see Alton for what he really is: a special boy with incredible powers. With Alton as their guide, they must rush across the country to the one place on earth where Alton’s safety is guaranteed. But with both the cult and the government hot on their trail, the only question that remains is can they do it in time?

I understand why everyone is saying “Midnight Special” is very Spielberg-esque, because it is. This film is very much like “Close Encounters of The Third Kind.” It’s also just a fantastic gem of a film. Jeff Nichols the director gave a great interview with Leonard Maltin on “Maltin On Movies” where they discussed all his films and how they mirror his life. “Midnight Special” in particular focuses on his need as a father to protect his children from the dangers of the world. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why the film works. This isn’t a Sci-Fi fantasy film, this is a wonderful drama with Sci-fi roots. 

Nichols does everything right here as a director. The story is solid, the cast is exceptional and this another example of why film is still relevant in production. “Midnight Special” was shot on actual film stock and it looks gorgeous. Film adds little imperfections to movies, and its those imperfections that make the movie really pop on the big screen. As great as digital is, it would have ruined the visual tone of the story. Nichols has made four films in his career, and they’ve all been small works of art. However, “Midnight Special” may be my favorite thus far.

What I really loved about “Midnight Special” was Michael Shannon’s performance. The entire film rests on his shoulders and his believability as a dedicated father. Shannon goes above and  beyond as Roy. This is a father that will stop at nothing to protect his child, including committing acts of violence and breaking the law. Shannon is great in everything he does, but he goes one step beyond with “Midnight Special”. Shannon is one of those actors who keeps his private life private. So, when he plays a role like Roy, you are always floored by him because you don’t know if you’re seeing the real Shannon or a character.

“Midnight Special” is filled with great performances from Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, and Kirsten Dunst. But the real discovery here is Jaeden Lieberher whose only other credits include “St. Vincent” and “ Masters of Sex.” There’s others, but those are the only note-worthy ones. In “St. Vincent” Lieberher played an outcast child who befriends a grumpy old man. Now in “Midnight Special” he is playing a very unique little boy with abilities that only he understands. Lieberher really understands this boy who acts more like an adult than a child. He really has such a great future ahead of him and “Midnight Special” will definitely help him on his way to acquiring other roles. This is a break-out performance from a very talented young actor.

“Midnight Special” is one of those films that is uplifting, but also thrilling. It reminded me of why I still go to the movies. I see a lot of duds in the months of January, February, and March which leaves me feeling drained. Luckily, in April, films like “Midnight Special” are released and restore my love of all things cinema. This is a miraculous gem of a film, and if you haven’t seen it yet or even heard of it; stop what you’re doing and see “Midnight Special”. See it in theaters and with someone you care about because it’ll bring you that much closer together. This is a must see film.  

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