Midnight Special

Director: Jeff Nichols.
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sean Bridgers, Kerry Cahill.

“Sometimes we are asked to do things that are beyond us”

After making his name with three independent films in Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud, director Jeff Nichols approaches his fourth feature with a bigger budget, making it his first studio production and allowing him to operate on a slightly more ambitious and grander scale. However, Nichols has a particular approach to storytelling and resists the urge to let the budget overshadow his intentions. Fans of his will be happy to hear that he continues his promise as a director with great depth and substance. 

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is young boy with a very special gift. So special that it attracts the attention of religious extremists and the Federal Government. To protect him, his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and his longtime friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) go on the run with Alton to try and uncover the truth behind his special powers and how it could have a huge impact on the world itself.

From his aforementioned independent films, Nichols utilised the intensive talents of Michael Shannon and it has become a solid collaboration that you can rely on. With the exception of Mud, Shannon again takes front-and-centre in Midnight Special and it’s yet another example of how this actor/director partnership works so well. Nichols likes to tread a particularly methodical path with his stories and Shannon always seems to know the terrain very well, complimenting Nichols’ approach with his usual brooding intensity. What’s different this time, however, is that Nichols aims higher and quite literally aims for the stars. Gone is the Shakespearean tragedy of Shotgun Stories and the parable of Mud and in their place we experience the otherworldly and supernatural elements that he attempted with Take Shelter. In doing so, Nichols puts his trust in the audience to accept the premise and roll with it. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble that pays off due to Nichols’ sincere approach to the story and through the sincerity of his committed cast.

There’s and unmistakable flavour of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and John Carpenter’s Starman but yet it still has the deliberate approach that Nichols has shown in his previous films. He resists the urge to shower the narrative in schmaltz, instead choosing to linger long on shots and capture the angst amongst his characters.

Is it formulaic? Yes. Is it predictable? Yes it is, but despite the formula and the film heading closer and closer to a predictable conclusion, Nichols still manages to pull through. His revelations verge on going too far but by the end you realise that you’ve witnessed a film that crosses all sorts of genres; it’s an introspective drama, a restrained chase movie and an imaginative Sci-Fi and it tackles all the tropes with a deftness and skill. We’ve seen it all before but Nichols utilises that sense of wonder and touches upon the biblical elements that made his previous films so engaging. His grandest achievement, though, is maintaining a freshness and preventing a tried-and-tested story from becoming stale.

Much of Nichols’ vision wouldn’t be realised without his strong cast. For imaginative and otherworldly material of this type, it requires a commitment from those onscreen and all the principal leads deliver; Shannon is always an actor that can express so much by doing so little and it’s easy to see why Nichols stands by him but it was the emotive (if underwritten) Dunst and, particularly, the charismatic Edgerton that really stood out for me. They both offer an emotional balance to Shannon’s stoicism and young newcomer Jacob Lieberher has an ease and likability that convinces.

It’s four for four from Nichols now and he’s fast became a director that instills a feeling of anticipation on the news of a new project. His next film Loving (again with Edgerton and Shannon) can’t arrive quickly enough.

Mark Walker

Trivia: On the poster we see the child reading a Superman comic book. Star Michael Shannon played General Zod in Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

33 Responses to “Midnight Special”

  1. Nice review Mark. I was disappointed by Midnight Special unfortunately; it spent too much time trying to emulate Stephen King without taking the excitement and thrills of his prose. Shannon gives a solid performance, but much of the movie just felt as if it was lacking in substance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s understandable, man. I was the opposite, though. Personally, before I went into it I was thinking that Nichols could’ve been approaching a sub-genre that would have been too much for him. But, I reckon he brought his particular, restrained, style to the film and it felt like it plenty of weight. A lot more weight than I was expecting. I enjoyed it a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I liked both Mud and Take Shelter, so I had high expectations that unfortunately Midnight Special didn’t fulfill for me. I did like a lot of the movie but it didn’t have much of an impact on me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve enjoyed all of Nichols’ films so far. I would probably say that Midnight Special is his weakest but I wouldn’t put much between them. Take Shelter is still his best for me and I’m looking forward to Loving.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice work, Muckers. Man, I was totally loving this movie until the end. I won’t spoil it for your readers but man that really disappointed me. : (

    Boat drinks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked everything about it. Including the ending. Nice review, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice work Mark, I think we have similar opinions on this one. I liked the fact the emphasis was on character/relationship development and not so much on the special effects side of things, though of course that comes into the story more and more. I also agree that Edgerton is really good here; I enjoyed seeing the others, like Shannon, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard and Kirsten Dunst, though the latter doesn’t get a great deal to do and Shepard is sidelined fairly quickly. One of my gripes at the time I saw it was that I’d have liked to have seen more of the cult, but not to the point that it ruined the film for me or anything. Shame no one went to see it, really, especially given the popularity of Stranger Things, which harks back to a similar period and has some of the same influences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Stu.
      Yeah, Nichols does the character/relationship angle so well and it brought something extra to the film. If Spielberg were to deliver this it would have been an entirely different film.

      A little more of the cult would have been welcome for me too. As well as more Shepard but glad to hear you mention Edgerton. I thought he was brilliantly understated.

      It is a shame that many seemed to let it pass by as it’s another solid flick from Nichols.


      • It is weird how little business it did. I saw and heard nothing but good reviews for it at the time (actually to the point where I think it’s been a bit overrated, but I still think it’s good), so it’s a bit strange people didn’t actually bother going to see it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it didn’t really get a wide release around my neck of the woods but the word-of-mouth was still positive. It’s definitely a shame that more people haven’t taken notice. Still, that’s what I like about Nichols’ films. They rarely hit massive commercial heights but are always quality material.


  5. Finally caught up to this a couple of weeks ago. Loved it because the sci-fi film didn’t go as we’ve come to expect from Hollywood these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Got to admit, I was massively disappointed by this. As good as Shannon is, felt Edgerton would be better as the Dad, and no need for a sidekick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a fair point. I thought Edgerton was great but I enjoyed them both collaborating too. And something as huge as what they were dealing with would require a helping hand somewhere. That said, your idea could probably have worked quite well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved this one, such a likable trio of actors in Shannon, Edgerton and Dunst and that kid was really impressive. I’d definitely own this on DVD as I feel it has so much to offer for repeat viewings (that I am yet to have. I wanted to see this twice in theaters I enjoyed it so much but never got around to it).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear it, man. I thought it was great too. I can understand some peoples gripes with it but really, what’s not to love? It has a little of everything going on and it does seem like it would hold up on repeat viewings. It’s definitely one I’ll swing back round to.


  8. Personally, I think this movie is only okay. Like you, I really dig Nichols’ craft, but I wish the story was more substantial.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was expecting a big sci-fi deal, Daniel, but instead I got a heartfelt human drama. For that reason I really went with it. And I actually thought the story had a lot more weight than it had a right to. I was quite impressed, man.


  9. Glad you enjoyed this one too Mark! As you know I loved this one, hence it’s on my top 10 of the year so far. I thought they did a fantastic job w/ a simple story and it was an emotional experience for me.

    P.S. Have you participated in my Five for the Fifth feature before Mark? I’d love to invite you for the September one that’ll be published this Monday. Let me know if you’re interested!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sterling stuff mate and right there with you. I mostly loved its vision, although it had the feeling of being messed about with in the edit suite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, man. Some dodgy work in the editing suite you say? I really didn’t notice mate. I thought it flowed fairly well and I loved that it managed to cross many genre’s. I really dig this Nichols guy. 🙂


  11. Another fantastic review! I have this, I just need to actually get to watching it. Maybe this weekend. It really looks good.

    Liked by 1 person

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