“Are you scared?”
“You don’t have to worry about me.”
“I like worrying about you.”
“You don’t have to anymore.”
“I’ll always worry about you, Alton. That’s the deal.”
Midnight Special wears its influences on its sleeves. It pays tribute Close Encounters of the Third Kind & other films of that Amblin era. It also reminded me of a mix of Starman & Firestarter. Starman in terms in being about a “special being” trying to get to a specific location while being hunted by the powers that be & Firestarter due to the father/child dynamic.
Director Jeff Nichols is definitely making something of a tradition, but it’s his version, his take on what this kind of story means. On the surface, Midnight Special is a science fiction story that drops us in the middle of the action right off the bat, & the awe & mystery of what’s going on is pivotal with the strong character work going on in every scene. Midnight Special not only contains sci-fi elements, but it’s also a family drama, with a father/son story at the heart of things.
Michael Shannon is a marvel of an actor as Roy, the strong father desperate to protect his kid. Joel Edgerton is outstanding as Lucas, Roy’s loyal friend that’s willing to put his life & freedom on the line to help. Jaeden Lieberher is perfect at playing Alton, the intelligent child with super powers which are indescribable, mostly because something different seems to happen every time they manifest. Adam Driver is really good as Agent Sevier, one of the many searching for Alton. Sevier has a distinct French name that gives me no choice but to assume that this eager, friendly, & knowledgeable character is, in some part, based on Francois Truffaut’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Gorgeously shot by Adam Stone, the use of shadows & light is very important, especially after Nichols reveals the secrets Roy, Lucas, & Alton are trying to understand. Considering much of the film takes place at night or in darkness, there is a particularly haunting quality throughout visually speaking. The score is also pumping, but not really in a thematic John Williams way. Composer David Wingo echoes John Carpenter’s work slightly, with a similar build to the classic score to The Fog. All of this works to create an undeniably compelling experience. Midnight Special is a terrific father/son adventure story that warms us to the idea that any parent would do the same for their kid, even if he might be an alien, a superhero, or something else entirely.
Even though Take Shelter is still my favorite Jeff Nichols film, I think Midnight Special is a great movie. Nichols delivers fully on the particular story he sets out to tell & he does it with a fascinating visual aesthetic.