“Midnight Special” #ConTENders

When I had first heard of this #ConTENder late last year, I had no idea what to expect. Then I saw the trailer.


Midnight Special is the fourth film written and directed by Jeff Nichols whose previous efforts were (in order): Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud (starring Matthew McConaughey). All four films thus far have featured the lead actor in Midnight Special, Michael Shannon, usually as the lead (with the exception of Mud).

This is the first sci-fi film from Nichols (and first studio film), and while that may worry some, I was game once I heard the premise. Without going into spoilers, Michael Shannon plays a man who kidnapped his own son from a religious cult compound called “The Ranch.” His son has some unexplained powers and therefore becomes the center of this tug of war between the boy’s family, the cult, and eventually the Government.

This film evokes the old-style of storytelling in that the film doesn’t feed the audience with all of details of the story; no, the film gives you just enough as the story unfolds, but shows you more.

We’re so used to films revealing every detail, every secret, and busting the end wide open. But when a movie ends with some unanswered questions, to me, it’s ripe for discussion. For example, the end of Inception left the film audience with some questions as to (SPOILERS for INCEPTIONwhether or not Dom was still in a dream. (END SPOILERS)

Midnight Special allows us to piece it together, even long after the film’s end. I went with two friends and we discussed the details of the film for at least a half an hour, and then when one of us came up with another thread, the conversation resumed.

Now, there are other reasons why this may be in my Top 10 of 2016. First, I love how a director known for such dramatic indie films can take a shot at a sci-fi genre film and succeed. His roots in dramatic writing prove useful here, as the film truly puts the story and its characters first.

I also love the film because it’s in the similar vein of which I want to make my movies: small sci-fi with a cool premise. They won’t necessarily be blockbuster hits, but they will be something you can come back to and re-watch to open a discussion.

Is the film perfect? No, there are some lines that aren’t strong enough, but it’s such a small part of the overall experience that it’s irrelevant.

The cast is a strong and tight one. Aside from the aforementioned recurring lead, Michael Shannon, the film features Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Black Mass), Kirsten Dunst (Spider-man, Melancholia), Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Killing Them Softly), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Girls), and Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent, Aloha).

Midnight Special was beautifully shot by cinematographer Adam Stone who also shot Mud, Take Shelter, and Compliance.

Writer/Director Nichols had mentioned that this film was written in reaction to his fear of being a father. After seeing the film, that notion totally makes sense.

In summary, if you ever get a chance to see this film, do it. You’re going to see this small-budget sci-fi come up quite often on a lot of people’s Top 10 of 2016.

-Jamie (@GuyOnAWire)

Keep up to date with which films may make my Top 10 of 2016 by clicking here.

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