D/W: Jeff Nichols. DP: Adam Stone. Starring: Michael Shannon/Kirsten Dunst/Joel Edgerton/Jaeden Lieberher/Adam Driver/Sam Shepard/Bill Camp/Scott Haze/Paul Sparks/David Jensen.
Despite the shadow of Batman vs. Superman, the little films are making splashes at the box office this spring. Among those like 10 Cloverfield Lane, is the new film from writer/director Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special. The film joins Nichols’ other successful pursuits in 2011’s Take Shelter and 2012’s Mud with this new film now with studio backing at Warner Brothers.
This chase movie follows Roy (Michael Shannon) who is attempting to take his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to a prescribed place and time. Aiding in his escape from a cultist ranch is childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and eventually Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst). Chasing the group is not only Ranchers, but the FBI led by Paul Sevier (Adam Driver). Alton is savior or weapon to those groups, but something else to his family who want to help him. Nichols’ script is subtle like his previous works and very contained as the film only covers about three days. Shot by his consistent partner Adam Stone, there are some gorgeous aeriel shots specifically a long shot of many helicopters hovering over a Louisiana swamp. Like hungry dragon flies the intrusive government paranoia leads up to an exhilarating final action sequence.
Midnight Special is also Nichols’ third collaboration with Shannon and it is clear the pair have a second hand. Through the years the lines on Shannon’s face have deepened and an unspoken weight to Roy. His Mormon like litheness works well and is a nice contrast to the brute force of Edgerton’s Lucas. Edgerton continues to be the MVP of the movies he’s in, I still maintain that he was the performance of 2013’s The Great Gatsby. Dunst is quiet yet resolute as Alton’s mother and her connection with the young actor resonates. Lieberher was discovered for the film, much like the young boy in Room. His otherness is hyper aware and calm and translate more to a sense of belonging rather than sci-fi shtick. A scene with Driver is quick and clever and gives Alton an intimidating yet powerful intellect.
Overall Midnight Special feels organic and makes you wonder what you would believe if it was your own child speaking in tongues and shining lights from his eyes. Covered in layers of darkness and threat the film gracefully builds with an amplifying soundtrack. The ending might be divisive, but it was a good payoff for me. Who knows what people can actually see. Maybe only those who trust or believe Alton can truly see? Go decide for yourself.