SXSW 2016: Midnight Special Review by Ashley Menzel
Midnight Special was my first introduction to Jeff Nichols and it did not disappoint. The film was crazy, weird, surprising, and a great deal of fun. It is the latest film from Jeff Nichols starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher and Adam Driver. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run with his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) with the help of Lucas (Joel Edgerton). With the FBI and a mysterious religious ranch hot on their trail, they must rush to get Alton to a predetermined location. Sevier (Adam Driver) is an analyst with the FBI who is tasked with figuring out exactly what Alton is and what he means to the United States and world safety. Along the way, Roy, Alton and Lucas pick up Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and continue their journey.
Throughout the journey, impossibly crazy and unbelievable things happen, such as Alton’s eyes glowing a blue light, his communication with satellites and even destruction of the structure of an entire room. The whole film spends a great deal of time building suspense and curiosity as to what Alton actually is and what is the purpose of the venture to the unknown. While the suspense is well done, there are portions of the film that drag and become a bit redundant. Overall the film is still great and the sluggish pacing doesn’t really hurt the film too much. The story itself is extremely engaging and the characters are all likable.
Michael Shannon’s performance in this film is extremely intense and purposeful. He really embodies the character and gives off such a genuine fatherly vibe. Jaeden Lieberher was great in this film and really used the limited number of lines he really had to give off just enough intensity without being way over the top. Joel Edgerton’s facial expressions in this film are great. It is like he is wearing his emotions right on his sleeve and holds nothing back. His astonishment and wonderment with the situation is so genuine and well played. Kirsten Dunst holds her own in this film, but unfortunately, I felt that her character wasn’t really 100% necessary to the plot. Adam Driver… I will say normally I can’t stand him. He bothers me in every film he has ever done… with the exception of Midnight Special. I think it is because for the first time he doesn’t over-act the part. He plays the dorky FBI analyst really believably and I hope to see more acting like this for him and less of the hipster Baumbach stuff.
The visual elements in the film were okay. There are some great action scenes that happen involving cars, guns, airplanes and accidents. They are all pretty well done. At the end of the film there are some special effects that I found to be sub-par and a little disappointing. I’ll be honest that this review is really difficult to write without ruining the plot of the film. So in order to not spoil anything else about the film, I will end here. I really do suggest that you see it. It is a fun little Sci-Fi film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.