GRADUALLY building a name for himself thanks to previous works Take Shelter and Mud, Jeff Nichols reunites with Michael Shannon for Midnight Special, an entertaining, intriguing and often intense mixture of family drama, on-the-run thriller and science fiction.
The film begins with Roy (Michael Shannon) and old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) in a hotel room, getting ready to go on the run with Roy’s young son Alton. Roy has ‘abducted’ Alton from a religious cult led by pastor Meyer (Sam Shepherd) who happens to be Alton’s adopted father, and thus begins a mission to get his son, a possessor of unusual powers not normal to Earth, to a certain area of safety.
Before then, they also have to travel to collect Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst).
Already fugitives for the abduction which has made national news, the scenario is made more complicated when Lucas, a state trooper, is forced to shoot a fellow trooper. On top of having to evade the authorities, they also find themselves having to escape the relentless pursuit of two men hired by the pastor eager to get his son back, whilst also evading an NSA agent (Adam Driver) who believes that Anton to be a potential weapon.
As the film opens with Lucas’s utterance of the term ‘‘It’s time’’, one cannot help but observe the mise-en-scene, where masking tape has been put across the peephole and the curtains have been blacked out. It dawns later that the reason is because Alton’s condition means he is unable to step outside in daytime and can only venture at night, yet that is not all the problem. Anyone who comes into contact with Alton’s eyes at a time when he feels in danger runs the risk of blindness thanks to a blue light formed from his eyes, as one soul discovers.
The curiosity as what could lie in store should he not reach his safe haven is expressed when he brings a satellite down to Earth, causing meteors to rain down on a gas station (of all places) as he, Roy and Lucas desperately escape.
The morality element of the film also gives an illusion as to the film’s motives, especially as neither Roy or Lucas are portrayed as villains, just men who are forced into a position of illegal activity to ensure the protection of Alton.
This is demonstrated never more so early on when a trooper, and bear in mind Lucas is one too, recognises the registration number on Roy’s car, just as Lucas attends to a woman seriously injured in a crash after a near-miss with Roy. While Roy orders Lucas to shoot the trooper citing Alton, Lucas disapproves, but is forced to kill when the trooper pulls his gun on him.
Clearly, something states that Alton’s predicament must be of the most vital importance if the situation has got to that, leaving a level of intrigue as to what is the problem with Alton. For some reason however, we sympathise with the plights of Roy and, specifically Lucas, even after what they did because we know they are not bad people and they had no choice given the kill-or-be-killed predicament.
They are also in a position where they can earn our siding because one suspects Alton is in the best possible hands out of those in the film to get him to safety, especially after seeing the suspicious activities of the cult.
Made more interesting is the fact that it is not just a case of police on the lookout, but also the members of the cult and the NSA agent in charge of finding him. It asks us who is going to get to their prey first, are all going to be involved at some stage and are any even going to get there at all.
When looking at it as a whole, it is easy to distinguish where it lies in terms of structure. The second act from when Sarah joins the fray is where the film takes a step back from the intensity that the film works at its best when displayed. The characters are arguably not given a hugely interesting set of things to do during that time and puts some pressure on the third act to connect with the first for entertainment value.
Thankfully, it does and though the first act is where the film peaks, there is enough deliverance of a good fashion to put Nichols down as a director who knows how to really entertain his viewers at times.
Better than Mud, though not on the same level as Take Shelter for enjoyment as well as performance, Midnight Special still impresses in its efforts to be an intense adventure, combining different genres around a generally watchable cast.