Title: Midnight Special
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Drama
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Music: David Wingo
Cinematography: Adam Stone
Jeff Nichols has a one-two punch in 2016, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL competes in Berlin and his latest LOVING has been selected in Cannes for main competition and will open domestically in the awards season, although both go home empty-handed.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL originally is slated for a late 2015 release, is Nichol’ s first studio production which signifies his attempt to appeal a more mainstream audience, emulates Steven Spielberg’s leap to ultra-popularity from the likes of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982), where, Nichol’s picture takes a similar Sci-Fi/Family approach and visual splendour, but plot-wise, a more pertinent predecessor should be John Carpenter’s STARMAN (1984), instead of pairing an alien who materialises in the human form of a woman’s deceased husband with the said woman, together they embark on a life-altering excursion to reach a specified location convenient for the alien’s departure, here, the romantic bond is supplanted by a stronger and more unswerving familial involvement, Alton (Lieberher), an eight-year-older, is kidnapped by his birth father Roy (Shannon) and Roy’s long-lost friend Lucas (Edgerton), from the ranch where he grows up under the aegis of Calvin Meyer (Shepard), the pastor of a religious cult in rural Texas. Alton is not a normal kid, he is another species from above, highly intelligent but also has his Achilles heel, Roy and Lucas, later Sarah (Dunst), Alton’s mother, also joins them, must escort him to the appointed place where Alton will safely be reunited with his own world.
The kidnapping case also occasions the attention of FBI, because Alton’s supernatural ability unwittingly and frequently intercepts US government’s confidential information, which Meyer and his believers consecrate as hallowed message from God. A special agent Paul Sevier (Driver) is designated to investigate the mystery, meanwhile Meyer also sends his two acolytes Doak (Camp) and Levi (Haze) to snatch Alton back, it is a three-horse race, but Nichols ascertains that this is no place for tear-jerking schmaltzy, he skilfully underpins the suspense of impending danger throughout Roy’s escaping route, partly through his economical but well-dispensed distribution of special effects, partly by parsimoniously teasing out the back-stories of Alton and his parents (at the end of the day, we still have no answer to the gnawing question, how come two humans can breed an alien son in the first place? One of his parents must be alien too, right?), which conforms to his indie-filmmaking vein to let emotions speak for the characters instead of lines and dialogues – Shannon’s reticent southern drawl, Dunst’s doe-eyed wonderment and her awkwardly overlong reaction shots, all betray a feeling of ill-placement or unwieldy concoction, eventually the plot will duly lead us to a spectacular revelation looks suspiciously like Brad Bird’s TOMORROWLAND (2015), maybe the same VFX company is hired.
Admittedly, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL broaches a daring premise to integrate God-like intelligence with religious maniacs, but this intriguing subplot prematurely hits the cul-de-sac and is skipped entirely in the third act, it is just like that, a scene-chewing Sam Shepard, unfortunately again exits the show too early as in John Wells’ AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013), this time, it is not even a plot default, he could appear more if Nichols would be mettlesome enough to enrich his part. Newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, takes the mantle from other earthbound aliens, embodies a dash of detachment onto his earthly appearance and effortlessly eclipses his adult co-stars with blinding blue rays beaming out of his eyes.
Apparently, Nichols’ stab into big studio system doesn’t pay off as we had expected (which shouldn’t be a surprise as there are many precedents galore), let’s hope MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, like its name indicates, is merely an amuse-gueule, LOVING, where he is back in his strongest suit, an intimate character examination of a true story, a married interracial couple is sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958, yes, that’s something sounds passé and anachronistic, but actually happened, only less than six decades ago, will be the main course and secure his reputation as one of the most prominent young talents in the US soils.