Often, when I have been looking forward to a film for a long time, I am disappointed. I’ve seen plenty of previews for films that I thought looked amazing, waited for months for them to get to home video, only to come away wondering why I was so excited about the film to begin with.
That did not happen with Midnight Special.
Yes, I did anticipate seeing this film for months. I first read about it probably three or four months before it was released to theaters.1 I have liked a few of Jeff Nichols’ films, and have appreciated Michael Shannon’s acting for some time, but it was the premise of the film that really intrigued me. It sounded like a good blend of Close Encounters, Starman, and E.T.
Then I saw the trailer and was sold. It had a mysterious quality to it, which is a big draw, but seemed to be built more on the emotional content than anything else. The story seemed simple enough: A man is on the run with his young son. His son is different. Special. Possibly dangerous. The cops, the government, and others are after them. To say more would risk ruining it.
For a number of reasons, I was not able to see it in the theater. When it released on Blu-ray, I looked for it at the big box that is red, and it was never available. I could have rented it on a digital platform, but the prices were insane. Then, I saw it on sale at one of my favorite digital options and knew that I had to take a leap of faith. I never buy films before seeing them, but I just felt it in my gut that I was not going to regret this decision.
I did not.
Midnight Special was everything I was hoping for. The acting is first rate. Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and newcomer, Jaeden Lieberher all give nuanced and compelling performances. So much of their story is told with glances, silence, and restrained facial expression. They could have gone for bombastic and showy, instead, they keep the film grounded with heartfelt and understated work. The story is brilliantly told, delivering just enough information to keep you intrigued all the way through the final frames. And the film packs a heavyweight emotional punch. The music is the secret weapon of the film, creating an emotional through line. The directing is as good as expected from someone like Nichols. He captures a tone and atmosphere that in one way hearkens back to the classic sci-fi of my childhood, yet is never a simple copy-and-paste job. He beautifully carves his own mark in the genre.
I might be soundly rejected for this assertion, but I vastly prefer Midnight Special to some of the films I mentioned earlier. In my opinion, it sits nicely next to E.T. in the pantheon of great, emotionally engaging sci-fi films.
Midnight Special is special indeed.
- Release date: March 18, 2016. ↩