Midnight Special is the new outing from writer director Jeff Nichols, whose previous work includes 2011’s Take Shelter. It follows Roy (played by Michael Shannon) and his son Alton Meyer (Jaeden Liberher), who has strange and unexplained powers, on the lamb from the law and a strange religious sect trying to reach the Florida coast in time for a prediction made by Alton to come true.
Before delving into my criticisms of the film, I want to briefly outline what I thought was
good about the film. The film has a great cast; Michael Shannon turns in a fantastic performance as a father protecting his child from a set of situations beyond human understanding. He becomes the moral and emotional centre of the entire film, his farewell to his son toward the end of the film is particularly moving. While they feel slightly superfluous, the rest of the cast also do a remarkable job especially Adam Driver provides light relief as nerdy NSA analyst Paul Sevier, who is asked to help in the investigation surrounding Alton.
The film also looks spectacular, a great use of colour and light create just the right mood for each scene. There is a warmth in the film that is almost palpable. Midnight Special resembles a family adventure film from the 70’s or 80’s. There is clearly a love and a care that has gone into the construction of the film that can be seen in the performances and the camera work. However these positives cannot save the film from its major flaws.
The major problems that I have with the film concerns its structure and pace. As the film progressed and more plot was revealed the weaker and weaker it became. The opening of the film presents an audience with what will appear to be a tight science-fiction/fantasy thriller of a father and son running away from a mysterious cult and the oppressive United States Federal Government to reach a location of unknown importance. However each interesting element or secondary character, is underdeveloped or just dropped to the way side. Myself and others in the screening found ourselves wondering if we had missed any of the story, as the film seemed to jump wildly from place to place with little to no explanation or development, as though the studio had cut vital scenes from the film after the fact. Its twists and turns also seem to make little sense and fail to explain themselves fully.
Towards the end of the film Driver asks to accompany Shannon on the last leg of the quest
to Florida, “Can I come with you?” he asks, Shannon responds with just a “No!”. This exchange seems to summarise perfectly my relationship to the film, I ask to be taken on this magical mystery adventure full of intrigue and danger but the film just denies me access to the world and by extension its characters. No matter how good the acting was and how great the cinematography looked, if there is not a decent structure to hang these elements on then the entire film collapses.
While I really wanted to like the film, and found myself enjoying the performances and fantastic cinematography, I was constantly brought out of the film by a variety of pacing and narrative problems. The film quite frankly is over stuffed and it is a real shame, because it had the potential to be something truly great.
(You can also read this review and a whole lot of other reviews and articles on The Norwich Film Festival Blog, click to peruse some great film making advise and film related content)
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