Review: Midnight Special

Review: Midnight Special

He's not like us. In sci-fi movies, mysteries are often everywhere. They are usually borne out of other-worldly concepts that the audience is supposed to accept as a backdrop for unfolding drama. Midnight Special has an unlimited number of mysteries, but lacks the unfolding drama to make them worthwhile. It barrels toward a conclusion that would feel unsatisfactory even if it weren't completely predictable--which it was. For all of its look and feel on the screen, it lacks the type of narrative tension needed to make any film work. 

 Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The story picks up as a father (played by Michael Shannon) and son (played by Jordan Lieberher) are on the run from a fundamentalist religious organization that wants the boy back. The federal government also becomes interested as the boy is shown to possess supernatural powers that cause alarm. A cat and mouse game unfolds as the father and son seek to get to a certain place with the help of their accomplice, Lucas (played by Joel Edgerton). Where are they going? Will they get there? What will happen when they do? These are the questions the film wants the audience to long for answers to. Unfortunately, I found no real reason to care about any of them. 

The movie offers bits and pieces of exposition as the narrative unfolds, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. A tight story told in a controlled fashion can be great. This, however, felt like much ado about nothing. The stakes never felt real and the characters and their interests never seemed to matter. There are thinly veiled references to the power of belief in something, but those themes are never followed through on. In the end, the characters just took actions, without it ever feeling like any of it was going to make any difference to anyone. 

 Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The bight spots in the movie are in its craft. It is beautifully shot by Adam Stone, whose framing of these characters gives the film its intense feel--even if there is no substantive drama behind it. Michael Shannon is the standout in the cast. He commands attention when he is on the screen, but it all falls flat without saying more. There are probably 10 minute segments in the film where Shannon's acting and the beautiful cinematography were at their peak. It would certainly suffice to watch those in lieu of the whole movie, which doesn't amount to much. 

 Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The interesting thing about this film is that it does not feel incomplete. Often, with films that have as much ambition as this, certain things are just unrealized. Not so here. This is the movie Jeff Nichols set out to make and it seems like everything that is and isn't there is wholly intentional. The barebones screenplay, the hints at various themes. Everything seems aimed at making this a story without impact. Nothing here is meant to bowl you over and nothing does--which is why I walked away unfazed, unsatisfied and unmoved.

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