By Kathryn Whitney Boole
The film “Midnight Special” is a distinctive and brilliant telling of a mysterious tale. The premise involves the age-old science fiction theme of hidden worlds. The way the tale is told unveils hidden complexities and is thrilling to watch. There is very little dialogue, the scenes are mounted with a foreboding darkness, and subtle visual clues move the story forward. The audience is drawn in and driven to find out more. The characters are compelling yet enigmatic, revealing clues to their history and personality a little at a time.
This is director Jeff Nichols’ third feature film. His movies “Take Shelter” and “Mud” (with Matthew McConaughey) were both critically acclaimed. For “Midnight Special” he brought on cinematographer Adam Stone, who worked on both of his previous films. Stone does a wonderful job setting the scene here. He also brought in composer David Wingo (“Mud”) and veteran editor Julie Monroe, who also worked on “Mud,” as well as production designer Chad Keith (“Take Shelter”).
Michael Shannon is powerful, as always, as Alton’s real father. Kirsten Dunst is his mother, and I’ve never seen her better. I believe character roles are going to be her calling. Australian actor Joel Edgerton conveys intensity as the state trooper and friend who helps the parents in their flight from a religious cult. Adam Driver is excellent as a gifted and quirky FBI agent. Jaeden Lieberher, who played the boy in St. Vincent, gives another great performance as Alton, a boy who seems to have special powers of vision and an ability to see an alternate world.
The story of “Midnight Special” revolves around Alton. The thriller side of the story ensues when the leaders of the cult who believe Alton to be their prophet try to steal him from his biological parents. The film is beautifully done — until the last 10 minutes or so. Those minutes almost seem to have been directed by someone other than Nichols (producers’ input, perhaps?). The whole style of the movie completely changes to include big graphic visual reveals and a dramatic car crash that is unnecessary to the story. That said, the rest of the film is so worth seeing that it makes the end bearable. It’s a superb example of mystery storytelling that just happens to have science fiction elements.
Rated PG-13. 111 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.