“Midnight Special” is the newest science fiction thriller from Jeff Nichols who is known for “Take Shelter” (2011) and “Mud” (2012). Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver star in “Midnight Special” where we witness a cat and mouse game of life. Where this “mouse” takes us is beyond anyone’s guess, but true to Nichols’ reputation, we only know when he wants us to.
There is nothing ordinary in “Midnight Special.” In fact, you know something isn’t at all ordinary from the moment we see Roy (Shannon) and Lucas (Edgerton), apparent kidnappers, interact with their victim; an odd little boy named Alton. These dangerous men suddenly become sweet and loving, fatherly, if you will, when interacting with Alton who is under a blanket with headphones and a flashlight reading comic books. On the run from the police and leaders from a religious compound where Alton had lived, it is immediately obvious that little Alton’s life is regarded as much more valuable than others. But why? They must out run those that are chasing them to get to a predetermined place by a certain time. Again, but why? The questions are innumerable, but the answers are few which is exactly what makes this movie so much fun. The tension isn’t all mentally induced as there are a few high intensity car chases, shots fired, and a crash or two. And to round it out, there are also relationship dramas between friends and a loved one.
Nichols is known for writing screenplays with a significant amount of mystery and intrigue and this, from my seat in the theater, is one of his best. With a familiar feel of a Stephen King novel, Nichols weaves together a beautiful and sometimes confusing tapestry of truth and assumptions. The pieces of information are given to us bit by bit, not always in order, and not always to lead us down the right path of thought. How we process this information is solely our own responsibility. Your mind is constantly trying to make sense of what you know, but your own belief system may surprisingly override common sense.
Jaeden Lieberher who you might recognize from “St. Vincent,” creates as unusual character as Alton. Lieberher exhibits a calmness and sense of omniscience that only leaders could have while still maintaining a child-like personality. He portrays an odd child who suffers from difficulty being in sunlight and hearing noises differently. This child is complex beyond understanding and Lieberher confidently performs as a seasoned veteran.
Shannon and Nichols have worked together in the past and it’s obviously a harmonious relationship given Shannon’s performances. He finds subtle nuances in his delivery of lines with extraordinary emotional intensity behind every thoughtful word, pause, and exhalation. Edgerton (“The Gift” 2015 and “Black Mass” 2015) shows us that he is capable of portraying any character with deft skill. Dunst’s down-to-earth persona shines through as a mom and Adam Driver is aptly cast as an NSA specialist. You easily forget that he was most recently in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as “Kylo Ren.”
“Midnight Special” is a tension-filled and thought-provoking mystery thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end. Determining the motives behind a kidnapping, trying to solve the puzzle of the identity of an odd little boy, and sifting through the information while you witness the “mouse” attempting to stay a half-step ahead of all the “cats,” is much like riding a roller coaster. It’s exciting and unexpected, and most of all, great fun to watch.