Jeff Nichols directs the mysterious story of Alton, a young boy played by Jaeden Lieberher, who’s not like us.
Having not seen or read much about this film I had no idea what to expect. I feel like that’s pretty much Nichols’ intention. From the off we’re given little context to what’s happening, which honestly feels really natural to the situation. It’s pretty hard to write a review based on a film that works best with the least foreknowledge, but I’ll give it a go, if only to persuade you to see it for yourself.
Alton is a young boy with special ‘powers’, which are left intentionally ambiguous throughout the film, who becomes of interest to the government, amongst other parties. Michael Shannon’s Roy sees the threat that Alton is facing and with the help of Joel Edgerton’s Lucas and Kirsten Dunst’s Sarah, escorts Alton to his final destination, which is also left intentionally ambiguous throughout and I won’t ruin it here. Adam Driver, excellent as always, is effectively introduced to the mix as Sevier, the NSA agent who takes a special interest in Alton’s. What ensues is a brilliant sci-fi mystery, but one which is firmly grounded in character and relationships.
The acting is fantastic. Michael Shannon is intense, but with a human insecurity and fear that the audience can really relate to. Joel Egerton, too, is brilliant, acting as the audience’s way in – he’s new to the situation too, and his responses are spot on. Really, it’s the natural characters, in interaction and motive, that make the sci-fi not just accessible but impressive for those who would maybe write off the genre.
The film itself is slow and allows the actors space to fill, lingering on the spaces between dialogue and action and making it seem like it’s happening in real-time. This does nothing to reduce the tension, however, and the whole way through I was transfixed. When the lights came up a guy a couple of rows in front of us loudly complained that it was two hours of his life that he wasn’t getting back. I can only imagine that he was expecting more action or more explanation. As it was, I thought the balance of these was perfect.The way that Nichols gives us essentially a chase film, but at a slower pace whilst keeping the tension, is fantastic. He carefully weaves in plot reveals at perfect interludes to keep you interested and the result is a compelling mystery.
If I could criticise anything, it would be the very end. I don’t want to give anything away, but the mystery of the story was great, and I didn’t really need to see anything to believe it.
EXCELLENT. Midnight Special is an intense and yet subtle film, exploring human life and emotion beautifully through a sci-fi lens.