Midnight Special

Apr 11, 2016 | Posted by in Movies
Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special follows a father and son on the run from the government and a cult who want to exploit the child’s special powers.

This film should be right up my alley as on the surface it seems like a thought provoking Sci-Fi mystery that wouldn’t be out of place on The Twilight Zone so I decided to have a look in the hope that it would deliver as a clever science fiction experience.

Sadly I found that the opposite was true. The science fiction aspects were fairly minimal when all is said and done which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there are plenty of great stories with Sci-Fi elements sitting in the background. The problem I had was that the rest of it wasn’t especially compelling. At its core this is supposed to be the father/son story where the father is doing everything he can to protect his child against overwhelming odds. There’s a lot of potential for that to be compelling especially when you add Sci-Fi to the mix but none of it quite works.

Midnight SpecialThe focus of the film is almost entirely on Roy (Michael Shannon), his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) though other characters come and go as the story needs them to. Since the film starts with the story already in full flow the audience is expected to buy into the father/son relationship pretty quickly and for the most part this comes across well. Michael Shannon plays Roy with a lot of intensity but clear devotion to his son. Roy compromises his principles on more than one occasion and it’s easy to see that this is difficult for him but also that he believes that what he’s doing is absolutely necessary. There is a constant sense that he is coming apart and finding it difficult to believe what is happening but is putting the strongest face on the whole thing that he can.

Jaeden Lieberher delivers an excellent performance and bounces off Michael Shannon really well. Their relationship carries the film and they feel like a real father and son but their connection works better in the earlier scenes than the later ones. Lieberher projects and unsettling and otherworldly quality successfully while still having enough humanity and innocence to help the audience root for him without much information to go on.

The major issue I had is that the film didn’t explore the father/son relationship in enough detail for me to remain invested in what was going on. At around the halfway point all momentum was lost as the characters were so thinly developed that they were unable to sustain it.

Joel Edgerton’s Lucas is vastly underused despite how often he appears. Early on he seems to be the opposite of Roy as he still upholds the values he has as a cop where Roy is willing to go to any extreme. There was plenty of opportunity for the characters to conflict that doesn’t get taken advantage of.

Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) is just as devoted to him as Roy is but in a different way. Where he is intense, she is soft and motherly which immediately establishes a varied parental dynamic. She doesn’t appear enough for any of her relationships to resonate properly but there is the suggestion of a broken connection with Roy and the scenes where Sarah comforts Alton are really well performed.

Adam Driver’s Paul Sevier leads the search for Alton and comes across as a rational presence who wants to understand the situation more than contain it. His morality becomes a major plot point but the character isn’t explored to any significant degree and there’s something off about Driver’s performance that might have something to do with how poorly defined his character is. He could essentially have been cut and the film would lose nothing.

I’ve mentioned that the story losing momentum is one of the biggest issues this film has. Having one of the pursuing parties quickly drop off entirely makes me wonder why they were included at all. There are similar issues with many of the supporting characters and stories. It’s almost as if they were holdovers from an earlier draft that became less relevant as time went on.

The first half of the film promises a quick pace and an engaging mystery but it falls by the wayside in the second half as the mystery doesn’t develop in any meaningful way and the characters begin to stagnate. I’m fine with answers not being given and the viewer left with questions by the end but the loss in momentum meant that I became less invested in what was going on so the film failed to leave me wanting more answers despite that being its clear intention.


A disappointing experience that starts off with a lot of promise but loses its way around the halfway point. Parts of it are done well through the father/son dynamic but it doesn’t develop enough to stay compelling and the mysterious science fiction elements don’t build intrigue the way that they should. Generally speaking it’s a failure but an ambitious failure.

  • 4/10
    Midnight Special - 4/10


Kneel Before…

  • a well-constructed first half
  • the suggestion of Sci-Fi intrigue

Rise Against…

  • a massive loss in momentum in the second half
  • no real payoff to the Sci-Fi elements
  • poorly developed side characters and stories
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