Review by C.J. Bunce
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial. The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain. Watcher in the Woods. Maggie. Super 8. The Omen. D.A.R.Y.L. A Perfect World. Starman. Michael. Tomorrowland. The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Blues Brothers. The Twilight Zone Movie. What could these all possibly have in common? Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.
Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first. It had an inexplicable limited release this past March. And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses. If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it. And what a loss! Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.
You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it. You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either. And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film. But it’s very, very different.
A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities. Is some messianic end looming ahead? Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason? Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread. Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end. What happened to this kid? Why does he have these powers? What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them?
Acting here is as good as it gets. Sacrifice. Faith. Determination. Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon plays a complex and stoic father, Kirsten Dunst plays a devoted mother in perhaps her best acting in any film to date, and Joel Edgerton (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) is the loyal and committed friend, establishing a memorable character everyone would want on their side. But it doesn’t stop there. Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Kylo Ren) is a National Security Agency operative in a role that rivals François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lucasfilm big budget theatrics aside, Driver can act. Jaeden Lieberher plays the young boy.
A classic chase film, an exciting mystery, suspense, tension, gripping action. Directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Midnight Special is a seemingly inexpensive film, with few special effects (but what’s there is believable and well done). Nichols delves right in, with an opening ten minutes that grabs and never lets go. He skips over explanation and lets viewers’ imaginations and individual level of paranoia take over; one can only imagine the backstory must be fascinating, too. One superb scene drops cast members in a simple traffic jam on a freeway, right in the middle of the climax, waiting to know what happens next and making the audience wait to see what happens next, too. But what’s it all about, and where does it fit? You’ll need to watch it yourself to find out. And you’ll be glad you did.
Plus you’ll remember this line as an instant classic: “Is it too much to ask you to punch me in the face? No? Never mind.”
Grab a copy of Midnight Special on Blu-ray and digital HD now here at Amazon.com. It will be on our of Best of 2016 list and is worthy of Oscar consideration for acting, writing, Adam Stone’s subtle, beautiful, and striking cinematography, and Nichols’ direction.