Midnight Special is a mystery sci-fi thriller directed by Jeff Nichols following a young boy with special powers who is relentlessly pursued by the government, while on the run with his father, the film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. And that’s the set up… and the story, more or less… but we’ll get more into the that later in the review.
But to talk about the premise, it’s good, it’s interesting and it’s probably the reason why you watched the film – that and or hearing the generally favourable reviews for the film and while the premise is good, Midnight Special doesn’t quite capitalise on its premise and take it anywhere interesting, being very reminiscent of last years Cop Car actually in a few ways, with main characters on the run, little to no backstory, dialogue and with fairly slow pacing. And make no mistake, the film is hardly a thriller and more along the lines of a character drama with sci-fi elements, there are some car chase sequences and an action scene or two but it’s really not that type of film so if you were expecting that from it, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Of course you probably shouldn’t go into the film expecting an action packed thriller but that being said, it’s slow… I mean really slow, to the point where it feels like nothing much of consequence happens through extended portions of the film and this slow pacing may turn off quite a few people.
The film prides itself in its dramatic elements and in the relationships it explores between the young boy Alton, his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Sarah Tomlin (Kirsten Dunst) but the main focus is between Roy and Alton and for what it’s worth, Shannon makes for a very believable and convincing father bent on safety for his son and he really nails conveying passion for what he’s trying to do, while Alton (Jaden Liebehrer) is decent, though not particularly spectacular. The cast present is stron, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver make up the supporting cast who give passable performances but don’t do that much aside from kind of being along for the ride. The cast is quite small – logically for an intimate character drama but the characters aren’t particularly that compelling or interesting, aside from Alton for obvious reasons as you want to know what his powers are and who he really is. I think Midnight Special falls victim to the drama with sci-fi element problem a few films recently have also fallen into e.g. Z for Zachariah,with having an intriguing sci-fi premise but not really exploring it in any detail or meaningful way that ultimately has you leave the film wanting more.
And for fans of smaller character driven dramas, the plot may have been fine and a lack of exposition might not have been that big of an issue but my inquisitive nature always has me asking questions and wanting to find out more and consequently, the little to no explanation of Altons power became a bit of an issue later in the plot, with some non-nonsensical events occurring, which in turns harms a previously solid and tight story. Midnight Special is okay, easy to follow with some decent performances but it doesn’t really ascend to the level of a great drama because of the lack of interesting characters, exposition and wider context for the premise.
. Some plot points make no sense – a few questions remain unanswered
. Has a strong cast, though no one is necessarily fantastic
. Plot really takes a while to get going, interesting moments are spaced out quite far