Midnight Special is one of those rare, small films that go unnoticed by the general population when they arrive in cinemas. The type that do not scream like the latest summer blockbuster nor announcing its arrival via some advance press release the way some major-caliber art-house movies made by Oscar winners from the director, actors, down to the the production crew, are promoted. It comes quietly through the backdoor and leaves before anyone even noticed its presence.
Which is a shame, because it really is a beautiful film and it deserves to be seen in the cinema in its normal theatrical run.
The story is simple and straightforward enough: Roy, a divorced father (Michael Shannon) kidnaps his son (Jaeden Liberher) from a religious cult that adopted the boy to take him on a specific location on a specific day—advised by his son during one of his ‘trances’. All this while evading government forces and the cult enforcers hell-bent on catching up with them. They’re helped by the Roy’s state trooper friend (Joel Edgerton) and Roy’s ex-wife (Kirsten Dunst). Apparently the boy has superhuman abilities that can intercept or even disrupt electronic communication. The cult looks at him as some kind of messiah figure who will send them to paradise, while the FBI and NSA believe him to be some kind of living weapon—able to destroy orbiting satellites and intercept highly-sensitive, encrypted national security communications.
All great sci-fi premises, but the movie is about a journey and the many snippets of the characters’ motivations and struggles without stopping to offer a backstory or even an explanation about the strange happenings going on around until the movie’s stunning ending.
It is an engaging adventure thriller. Like the type Steven Spielberg would have made in the 80s. Director Jeff Nichols admitted it was a tribute to all the movies of that type he saw in the 80s while he was growing up. Like E.T. and John Carpenter’s Starman. But underneath all that obvious exterior lies a very tender,and somewhat heart-breaking story about the way a family copes and struggles with the possibility of losing a loved one even after all the external threats have been hurdled.
And Nichols manages to pull off the most emotional and engaging scenes with the least amount of sappiness and contrived melodrama so common in most movies sharing the same theme these days. It’s all about restraint, and subtle, fleeting shots of a simple family often seen through the perspective of Joel Edgerton’s state-trooper character. Without saying a word you’d understand why his character would go out of his way to risk his life and career to help out his friend and family deliver their son to his ultimate destination and fate.
For all the mysterious unexplained phenomena, government conspiracy, religious fanaticism, and alien lifeforms in the story, it is a very human and timeless tale about the unconditional love of parents for their children, and the inevitability of letting your loved ones go.
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