While the world obsessed over the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (reviewed HERE on Flashback/Backslide), Jeff Nichols’s fourth feature film Midnight Special made fewer headlines but may be the film of the year so far. The film follows ex-cult member Roy who flees with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). As the movie progresses we learn more and more about Alton, the strange powers he possesses, and the people chasing the trio. Nichols holds his cards close and reveals them slowly over a two hour run time that feels remarkably expansive (you’ll find more expository dialogue in one trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie than you will here).
The restraint that Nichols shows throughout the film seems to be a major talking point among reviews so far. Nichols has quickly climbed to the top of the list of young directors working today. As much as I would like, I can’t honestly say that I’ve been on the Nichols bandwagon since the beginning. Over a year ago I wrote a few brief thoughts about Nichols’s most recent film Mud. At the time I was far more focused on the film as it related to Matthew McConaughey’s rise from Rom-Com darling to Oscar winner. That perspective damaged my appreciation of the film by taking the viewing’s focus away from the film itself. A repeat viewing is in order two years removed from the McConaissance to dig deeper into Nichols’s tendencies.
Mud and Midnight Special point towards Nichols’s ability to play out deeply human stories no matter the genre. It would be easy to compare his latest work to Sci-Fi films before it. Comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Starman circulated through many reviews, no doubt spurred on by interviews with the director. More modern comparisons can be made as well. Some of the storyline vaguely recalls Looper and many sequences of this movie lend more towards the tones of Sicario and No Country for Old Men. As generous as those comparisons might be, they do more to take away from Nichols’s work than applaud it. The young director and his excellent cast and crew craft a film all their own. Midnight Special is one of the more remarkable films I’ve seen over the last few years, ranking alongside my favorites from last year Room, Sicario, and Ex Machina. Over the past few years Michael Shannon, who plays the lead here, has vaulted from “I know I’ve seen that guy somewhere” to one of the more capable and intriguing actors working today (he recently starred alongside Kevin Spacey in Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon). Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst deliver their own strong performances while Jaeden Lieberher pulls the film together around him as Alton despite being only 11 years old at the time of filming. Behind the camera Adam Stone’s cinematography matches Nichols’s direction and focus with beautiful framing and lingering shots. David Wingo’s score might be the strongest I’ve seen since Johann Johannson’s work in Sicario and Stephen Rennicks’s in Room. It feels odd to list all the crew members like this but Midnight Special excels in all facets of filmmaking by pooling a strong group of collaborators. And all that adds up to one of the best sci-fi films of recent memory.
Bottom Line: In my early ranking of the year’s 35 most anticipated films Midnight Special ranked #15. I expect the film to rank much closer to the top in my end of the year list, along with Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols for their work here.
Thanks for reading,
Damien from Flashback/Backslide