People often ask me what my favourite film of all time is, and it’s a difficult question to answer. I have a ‘head’ film list and a ‘heart’ film list, and depending on my mood the lists can shift. However, always near the top of the ‘heart’ list without fail is Spielberg’s 1977 original cut of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – a film that just blew me away at the cinema on first release. Here in “Midnight Special” we have the nearest thing I’ve seen to a loving tribute to that classic.
Our hero Roy (obviously!) played by Michael Shannon (Zod from the recent “Superman” reboots), and with help from childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), kidnap a strange light-sensitive child with strange powers from the Texan HQ of a doomsday-focused religious cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). The child – Alden – is played really well by 9 year-old Jaeden Lieberher.
Triggering a state and then nationwide manhunt, the trio meet friend and foe on their journey into an uncertain future.
While most strikingly resembling “Close Encounters”, the film drops in – either knowingly or unintentionally – parallels to a host of other Sci-Fi films including “Cocoon”, “ET”, “Tomorrowland” and “Village of the Damned”. You might conclude from this comment that this is just a Sci-Fi by numbers quilt: but – while there are probably few truly original Sci-Fi stories left to define – the writer/director Jeff Nichols does succeed in ploughing his own narrative furrow in this well worked field by throwing in a road-movie smattering of “The Sugarland Express” or “Thelma and Louise” into the pot.
What’s refreshing in a Sci-fi movie (as was the case in the recent “10 Cloverfield Lane”) is that Nichol’s screnplay is intelligent enough to treat the audience with an IQ north of 100 by letting the story reveal itself. Some elements of the story (no spoilers) treat you as absurd: and then 30 minutes later there is an “Ah!” moment.
The key Performances by Jackson and Kirsten Dunst are good and very touching in places. Playing the “where have I seen him before” card is Sevier, the lead scientist (why didn’t he have jangling keys on his belt though?). If you give up, the answer is that he’s played by Adam Driver, Kylo Ren from “Star Wars”. For me though Joel Edgerton particularly stands out. I’ve been critical of some of his performances in the past, but here he really nails it with a quiet and unassuming supporting role.
David Wingo’s score worked well in places, but – sorry Mr Wingo – I was hankering at some points for swelling John Williams strings!
I could also be mildly critical of the cinematography by Adam Stone. Although very atmospheric, it takes the “Midnight” from the title rather literally in places: something that I can see causing difficulties for TV viewers in working out what the hell is going on in places.
This is a slower paced film than many might like, but for me it perfectly balances character with mystery and action. As such it grabs at least a draft slot in my films of the year.
By the way, following on from my previous review, Midnight Special has a BvS-quotient of 7.2% …. that’s the percentage of this movie’s budget to the budget of Batman vs Superman!
Fad Rating: FFFFf.