Man, that trailer piqued my interest, but as soon as the title rolled up, I immediately thought that it was an incredibly silly title for the content that I was watching.
But in any case, ever since the TV show BOARDWALK EMPIRE and MAN OF STEEL, I am down for pretty much anything Michael Shannon and, of course, Joel Edgerton who was one of my favorite things to come out of 2015 thanks in large part to his suspense thriller THE GIFT, which he co-starred and directed. Further incentives to see this movie were Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst, both great actors. So yeah, I was pretty excited for this movie. Took me awhile to get around to it… but that’s not important now! I love sci-fi, from the space opera to the more low-key and subtle, this was one I didn’t want to miss.
This is my honest opinion of: MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
The story follows Roy (Michael Shannon), whom the local new stations claim to have kidnapped his own son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), whom doesn’t at all seem bothered to be with his dad. Aiding them in their law-enforcement avoiding is the stalwart Lucas (Joel Edgerton). Alton was a religious figure for a cult from a farming community known as The Ranch; believing him to be a savior of some kind. The truth is, he’s gifted with unexplained powers that allow him to control electronics, whether he does it on purpose or not. This led him to decoding top government information that they didn’t want anyone to discover. A part of that information is a set of coordinates of mysterious nature and Roy believes that on a specific date, Alton needs to be brought there for unknown, but special reasons.
It’s alright. There’s actually a decent amount of good in it, but it does have a few problems that I just can’t get past.
Alright, let’s start with the good. First of all, it’s pretty refreshing to see a character that has supernatural abilities, but not be constantly struggling with it like in anything X-Men. He seems to have his shit together, both in terms of his powers and his demeanor, and that’s pretty cool. In fact, Lieberher in general is actually a solid young actor. He plays off the mystery of his character incredibly well that leaves you with a non-stop feeling of both discomfort and intrigue. You know he’s just a kid when you see him read a Superman comic book, but you’re reminded that he is potentially incredibly dangerous when brings down satellites from space in fear of the government watching him, which causes some serious destruction. Hope this little dude goes places and is given equally compelling roles.
But I can’t go this review without praising Shannon or Edgerton. Both gentlemen are damn fine in this film, both incredibly nuanced and complex characters. Roy and Lucas barely see eye to eye, only in that Alton is gifted. Beyond that, Roy is protective of his son like a father would be, but when Alton shows signs of being sick, he’s surprisingly and aggressively against the idea of taking him to the hospital, constantly spouting “he’ll be fine.” This is in direct contradiction of the man who wants to take Alton to the hospital, Lucas. While he knows that this kid is beyond anything that can be comprehended, and he’s loyal to getting him away from those that might not be kind to him, but you see that he hasn’t forgotten that he’s still a little kid who needs help.
Story-wise, it’s got a great set-up. A newscaster says that Alton’s been kidnapped by his dad, but Alton seems rather content with his situation, so there’s this intense level of mystery regarding what really is going on. The relationship with Lucas is also mysterious, as the way the characters talk to each other and how they generally are together indicates that they aren’t related. There’s tension, they don’t always agree. The home Alton is from built a religious cult around him and they send people armed with guns to hunt down Alton and bring him back, even though these people aren’t hit-men, or anything. The government and their curiosity toward Alton really feels like the stakes are risen, it’s a great set-up. Especially the subtle drops in backstory for the core characters. I don’t know if I’ve seen a sci-fi built up quite this well before.
However, as much as I want to give props to the performances and this movie’s setup, it’s not all good.
For one thing, all that build up of mysterious stuff, very little of it pays off. For example, I don’t question how Alton has powers or anything, hell, I don’t even question how exactly a cult got formed around him. What I do question is the importance of dropping information that Ray left Alton in the care of a preacher for two years and that his mom abandoned him. The way Ray and Alton talk to each other, you wouldn’t guess that there was a two year stretch of them not being together. The same goes for his Alton’s mom, Sarah, played by Kirsten Dunst. Again, Alton smiles and is all hugs when it comes to the two of them. He’s not curious as to who she is, no hostility, again, all of this bares little to no impact on the story.
Speaking of the character Sarah, she barely plays a role in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, Dunst is acting her face off, and I sure do want to feel for her, but… literally, her character is just there to make cry-faces at Alton. I can tell there was a role in mind for her that would have a major impact on the story, but it’s just not there in the final product. What a waste of such a great actress.
And for all that setup, there’s barely any explanation as to what exactly it was that Alton stole from the government. I mean, feel free to leave a comment below and inform or correct me, but the only thing that Alton stole was super secret coordinates. Not nuclear launch codes, just… a place… with no major significance. All of the plot hinges on what Alton “stole” and it just didn’t feel like a satisfactory reason for this relentless chasing, which really hurts the film in my opinion.
Overall, this is by no means a bad movie. The performances alone are worth it and the build up is phenomenal. It just doesn’t have great resolutions for all of it. The effects are outstanding, the characters are well-written. If you’re a fan of low-budget sci-fi with a nice mystery stamped on it, I’d say this movie might be for you. I’ve only seen it once, and although I’d be open to seeing it again, I probably won’t go out of my way to do so. Once was enough.
My honest rating for MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: 3/5