*** out of ****
Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special is a science fiction film with a relentlessly dark tone that is only likely to engage hardcore fans of the genre - such as myself. Nichols regular Michael Shannon plays against type in this thriller about a father on the run with a child, played by Jaeden Lieberher, who possesses powers that have captured the interest of a religious commune and the government.
It’s funny that in my review of Nichols’ excellent previous film, Mud, I jokingly compared it to E.T. because Midnight Special feels like a dark extended version of the third act to Spielberg’s classic movie.
Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Bill Camp, David Jensen, Sam Shepard, and Kirsten Dunst all make excellent supporting characters in a story that may be escapist, but stays true to the southern, rural, blue collar atmosphere, which is a constant in Nichols’ work.
Another constant in his work is also short-spoken dialogue and an expectation for the audience to make connections. With this kind of character work on top of a heavy sci-fi mystery, I can’t deny that I found some of the film’s passages to be long and frustrating in their lack of emotional foundation.
This is the kind of project that could have easily been developed into a TV show, but I’m glad that filmmakers like Nichols still believe in the self-contained form of a single movie as an experience, which one may want to re-experience if only to better understand it.