As it should be, I knew absolutely nothing about Midnight Special before going into the theatre (apart from the names of some of the key players involved). This is the only way, in my opinion, to get the fullest enjoyment out of watching this film, even if (or precisely because) Midnight Special is a very enigmatic film (i.e. one never learns what is really going on at the beginning of the film or what really happens at the end).
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose previous two films (Mud, Take Shelter) were among my favourites in their respective years (2012, 2011), Midnight Special stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver (among others) in what I will only describe for you as an ‘adventure’ film (I do this on the off chance that you have not yet been informed of its actual genre or genres, thus potentially increasing your enjoyment of the film).
While this ‘adventure’ film contains a number of action scenes, those viewers looking for an action film will go away disappointed, as Midnight Special is a slow-moving thoughtful film which focuses on characters, relationships, tension and mystery rather than action (even though the ‘action’ drives the film’s narrative). Even so, my only complaint about Midnight Special is that there was too much action (i.e. more than was necessary, including some violent scenes which, while remarkably restrained, were nevertheless not absolutely required).
One of the many joys of watching Midnight Special is its obvious (and, I assume, intentional) similarity to one of my favourite films of all time (a film made in the seventies, which I won’t identify lest it give too much away). It isn’t in any way a remake of that film, but it felt like I was watching another version of the story, one with strong undercurrents of one of my all-time favourite writers (a Canadian writer by the name of Robert Charles Wilson, whose specialty is ‘mystery’, though not of the Agatha Christie variety).
There is a lot of mystery in Midnight Special, especially, as I have indicated, at the beginning and end of the film. But I found both the beginning (which drops us into the middle of the story) and the end to be absolutely brilliant. It was only the ‘action’ in between that occasionally failed to satisfy.
The acting was excellent, with Shannon standing out as a man suffering from all kinds of doubts and anxieties as he tries to … oops, almost gave you too much information. Add a perfect score and handheld cinematography that felt right for this kind of film (which felt so much like an indie film that it’s hard to believe it was made by a studio) and you have another winner from Jeff Nichols, one of the best new directors out there. For the second review in a row, I have to give Midnight Special ***+ verging on ****. My mug is up.
Update: Having just watched Midnight Special for the second time, I was blown away by the fact that, despite being a surprise-twist kind of film, I actually liked it more the second time, with the violence still bothering me but not near as much as I had expected. So I am now awarding this film a solid **** and a place in my top ten films of 2016.