There’s something extraordinary about MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, and it’s hard to explain why without spoiling too much, but I’ll try.
An Amber Alert has been issued, and the child they’re seeking is named Alton. What the media don’t seem to know is that the child is not a captive, rather, he’s with his father and not in any immediate danger. The government is tracking the trio, which includes a childhood friend of Alton’s father, as is a cult which considers the child their potential savior.
The work done by Jaeden Lieberher is some of the best acting I’ve seen from a kid of his age. It ranks up there with what we saw from Haley Joel Osment in SIXTH SENSE, and easily as good (or arguably better) than Jacob Tremblay in ROOM (though Tremblay was 8 when filming ROOM, and Lieberher was 3 years older than that here).
It’s no surprise that Michael Shannon excels in the role of Alton’s father, Roy, who will do whatever it takes to ensure they complete their journey. The love he has for his son is evident, even though it’s quite likely that he never actually said the words during the film. The way he looks at Alton is nuanced and different than the way other characters approach him, and it’s a testament to Shannon to put considerable emotion in his body language. If he and Lieberher aren’t nominated for their performances, I’ll be shocked.
Joel Edgerton once again proves to be one of the finer actors of his generation, here in the supporting role as Roy’s childhood friend along for the journey. When you get the explanation for why Lucas is there, why he stays even through some stressful and dangerous situations, Edgerton sells it and it’s not just completely believable, you can feel it. Don’t be surprised if he gets a nomination as well.
For the government contingent, Adam Driver portrays Sevier, and through him we really get to experience the mystery as it unfolds and the powers Alton holds. Any memories of him in an HBO show or Star Wars are completely left behind as he seems fully in his element here as an NSA analyst.
Kirsten Dunst hasn’t always been my favorite actress, going through a rough time over the past decade, but she follows the trend of characters with whom it’s easy to connect on an emotional level, especially as her interactions with and reactions to Alton are significantly different than that of Roy’s.
Writer and director Jeff Nichols, with this film, has convinced me to go back and watch TAKE SHELTER and SHOTGUN STORIES, two other projects he wrote and directed, each featuring Michael Shannon.
If you’re interested in science fiction and fantasy films at all, at any level, and don’t mind when tensions start running high and mysteries unfold over time instead of being thrown at you all at once, see this film. It’s tremendous, and to more fully explain it would be to give too much away. Just avoid trailers and go see it. The special effects are just as high quality as the storyline, and I mean that as a compliment. It definitely got a couple “whoa” moments out of me, and when it was all over, I caught myself actually saying “wow”, out loud, as I stood up from my seat in the theater during the credits. Tremendous.
My rating: 90 out of 100