Midnight Special (2016)

 

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Midnight Special earns an uneasy recommendation from me. I love it, tremendously, but the missus hates it and said it is 112 minutes she couldn’t get back. If ever there is a more divisive film, this is it. Which ever point of view one decides to take, this is a film that is truly unique and searingly unforgettable.

IMHO it is best to go in not knowing the plot. I will just say it is a sci-fi-drama-chase genre film. Roy (Michael Shannon) and his biological son, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), are escaping various parties, after discovering that Alton has special powers.

This is writer-director Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature film and his most adventurous. His last two, Take Shelter and Mud, are evocative and provocative character-driven mood pieces. Midnight Special pulses in the same vein of inventiveness and risks, and it is a film that refuses to be like any other films out there. I can see inspiration drawn from Spielberg, Kubrick and Hitchcock, based on an unrealised idea from M. Night Shyamalan’s work desk. But yet, Midnight Special manages to be special in its own way. It refuses to divulge details and context in typical avalanches and we are only given a piece of the jigsaw puzzle in each scene. He stages scenes with meticulous details, laden with enigmas caught in the webs of mystery. He coaxes empathy and anguished tension from his actors. The pace is deliberate but never prodding and always purposeful. He builds his scenes with the craft of an old hand, with cresting waves of dread, mystery and tension, pulled by a looming tempest. Questions of “why this why that” whiz across my mind continuously, but unlike most films I was totally immersed in the beguiling story as I prayed for a payoff that would reward my patience, and it certainly did.

Midnight Special has plot-holes the size of craters but a slew of empathetic performances with nary a wrong note smooths it out for me. Sam Shepherd appears as the leader of a cult and his few minutes of screen time nails down what Alton Meyer could be. This also marks the fourth consecutive time Michael Shannon has worked with Jeff Nichols and he is a revelation. His dogged and driven character drives the story. For me, the uncanny and moving relationship between the father and the son is the glue that cements all the unevenness of the narrative. Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst also give calibrated performances. Adam Driver is a casting choice from the left field and it totally worked. All this is also buoyed by the sublime cinematography and a music score which is a layering character itself.

In the end, I still had many questions left unanswered but they never tarnished what is one of the most audacious chase genre films I have ever seen – a riveting blend of thrills, dazzle and mystery. But I have to say these questions bothered my wifey to no end.

3.5 / 5 (I gave it a 4 and my better half gave it a 3. Actually, it was a 2 but after listening to me on the drive back she changed it to a 3)

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