Review

(Sigh) I’m starting to get annoyed by Jeff Nichols. I guess that opinion has been bubbling up in me over the years, but I don’t think I would’ve said something to that effect outright, for one reason or another until now, because, well, really he’s too talented to ignore, but now I feel like I’m just hitting a wall with him and this, latest combination of southern gothic meets sci-fi he’s put out, eh, it’s putting me off. “Midnight Special” Makes me wonder if these genres even belong together really.

Oh course, maybe it’s possible that I’ve just misread him over the years. I tend to consider him as a more melodramatic and introspective David Gordon Green-type director. His first film, ‘Shotgun Stories‘ had that kind of tone, and was a decent movie about rival half-brothers set in the backwoods of Arkansas, and I think he was more interested in setting and tone than in the story. Then he started setting tone, into some more, shall we say, fantastical directions. I liked Take Shelter‘, his next film, quite a bit but I should confess now, I never liked the ending. That was about a working man, who was struggling with his own mental demons; and the issue is whether he’s got some kind of debilitating neurological disorder, schizophrenia if I remember correctly, or if these voices he heard actually were a warning to something.

I guess the ending,-, I guess you can read it as open-ended, because it really give us a direct answer, but I’m not sure that helped the film. The story of the Michael Shannon character struggling was far more intriguing to me than whether or not we knew what the syndrome was. Anyway, he went back to a more traditional southern gothic narrative with ‘Mud‘, which I liked but didn’t love, despite it being more of a return to form, at least in my eyes. Then, this past year, he’s given me two very different movies that seem like they’re all over the map. The first was ‘Loving‘ a biopic about the Loving Family who’s Supreme Court case was the one that legalized mixed race marriage. I don’t think there was anything wrong with that movie, it’s just that the subjects themselves weren’t interesting. ‘Midnight Special‘ however,-, I mean, I like the setting of his worlds, this rural backlot of mid-America, that intersection where magical realism is at it’s most potent, but, man, he convoluted this thing to near death.

Midnight special

So, the story of ‘Midnight Special‘ begins with two men, who’ve apparently taken a young boy, and authorities are looking for them. There’s an AMBER alert on the news, and the men,  Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and the eight-year-old, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are on the road, and for some reason, the kids is wearing dark sunglasses all the time. Alton, doesn’t seem particularly concerned or worried, and not in a, he’s-a-kid-he-doesn’t-realize-what’s-going-on sort of way, so we’re invested and there’s mystery. There’s also mystery behind the people looking for him. Not the police, but an NSA agent, Sevier (Adam Driver) who interrogates several people during the film, as we wonder what he could possibly care about a missing kid. We eventually find out that the kid, was stolen from a Texas cult lead by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepherd, in one of his last roles.) who’s after the kid, who does in fact have some kind of disturbing metaphysical super powers, and the sunglasses are ’cause of some visible light from his eyes that, can destroy or blind people.

At this point, I think the movie is trying for ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ and it kinda hits it, but I think it more feels like, bad ‘X-Men‘ fanfiction, or-eh,- what was that stupid show, oh, ‘Heroes‘ type things, and at that point, I kinda just tuned out. I mean, there’s more going on, Kirsten Dunst has some nice scenes as the kid’s mother, and the revelations are pretty good, and there’s a parable about parenting that most everybody seemed to bring up. It’s definitely there and obvious, and I don’t usually mind that, but here, it just felt like one too-many things at that point. There’s the chase, the kid’s powers, the cult leader, the government investigation, the mother, the flying satellites, just…- too many things, and I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it. I kinda have the same problem with ‘The Shining‘ oddly enough, everything’s scary, therefore nothing’s scary, therefore the film doesn’t work. That’s not quite true with ‘Midnight Special‘, a lot of this works, I just think it lacks any real meaning, ’cause it all feels metaphorical instead of real characters going through a difficult problem, at from a writing perspective I suspect.

I’m David Baruffi, and as always, I have the last word.

Midnight special



About the Author

David Baruffi
David Baruffi
David Baruffi has been a successful unemployed screenwriter for, let's be vague and call it "years". He's got a B.A. in Film Studies from UNLV, is a certified script supervisor and has done a little bit of everything in film, but mostly is a writer. Personally on his own blog "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" which is at www.davidbaruffi.blogspot.com,and professionally has written several scripts and stories, for himself, and for others and as a ghostwriter. When he's not doing that he watches his autistic brother most days and he looks like two old puppets.