After watching ‘Mud’ (2012) by Jeff Nichols, I was blown away by his style of cinematography, use of nature, the deep concepts involved in the film, and the ability to find a marvellous young actor (Tye Sheriden). For me, ‘Mud’ is a new American classic. From this point on, anything that Jeff Nichols works on, I wanted to see. Seeing trailers and promotions for his latest film ‘Midnight Special’ got me really excited. The film looked beautiful and profound, and sure enough, I was not disappointed.
‘Midnight Special’ started as a limited release on March 18th, but slowly grew wider as the good word got out. Now, how to explain this film without giving too much away? It’s about a young boy who has special powers and a variety of people see these powers in unique ways. His father however, wants his son to be safe, so kidnaps him and goes on the run from the entire government and then some. This is ultimately a film about belief, humanity and our perception of our place within the universe.
This film is quite unique. It fills out all the things you need for a good hardcore science-fiction, drama, thriller film. If I had to try and categorise it, films like ‘ET: The Extra Terrestrial’ (1982) and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) come to mind. Even then, it feels somewhat out of place for a variety of reasons. Let’s get the basics out of the way; the performances from the entire cast – Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton – were great. No real weak spots in that lineup. As for Jaeden Lieberher, he had poise beyond his years. Jeff Nichols, or his cast director, really seem to nail it when it comes to finding talented young people. This kid was creepy and silent, but whereas in some films that would be out of place and infuriating, it fit perfectly with this one. When he was “normal”, he had such control of his lines and I was truly impressed with him.
The cinematography is stunning, with Nichols’ use of the grand spectacle of nature is his shots being some of the best I’ve ever seen. Honestly, they make me want to get up and road-trip into the great American wilderness; his shots are truly awe-inspiring. Nichols also uses a musical score very well, in that it is somewhat limited. There are a lot of times where you are listening to natural background noise and I love that. And when this film needs some special effects, they are done well. It is a stunning film and I really appreciated its care for aesthetics.
As for going deeper into this film, that is a hard thing to do without spoiling it, though I will give it a shot. Basically, this film is going to make you think about a lot of things. You probably would get a different take from your friend sitting next to you. For me, I felt it was a very Buddhist film, which fascinated me, as a Buddhist myself. Of course, you could say it was a very Christian film, or even an Atheistic film. As you may now be able to figure, there is some sense of a religious aspect. By no means is it religious propaganda or pushing for any specific belief system, but it is there. I also consider the film to be about humanity and how we react to a “surreal” circumstance. Some people will react productively, some will be afraid, others with be destructive. It made me think how I would act in such a situation. I’d like to say constructive, but I could also see fear and intrigue.
There are only three things I didn’t particularly like about this film. First, the pacing at times comes to a crawl. This film reminds me of a foreign movie, where things sometimes move at an “un-American” pace; a bit slower to build, with not as much tension in the air as your average thriller. The other thing is that this film has plenty of opportunities to provide characters with some depth. This film certainly walks along some powerful concepts, but it would have been nice to see the characters address even one of these once in the film. Hey, perhaps they did and I just missed it – it was all done very subtly. The final issue I had was that the ending lacked enough closure. There are things that make you think, there are stories that are seen through to the end, but also a few things left unanswered. I believe that is intentional, but it is also somewhat frustrating.
This is not a movie for everyone. I think the film is largely about having an open mind to the world around us. Science, in one form, shuts down certain imaginative theories, but can also vastly extend others into new realms. This is a very cerebral film and it will leave you with just about as many questions as it does answers. If you appreciate quality filmmaking and beautiful cinematography, then this is a movie I strongly suggest. If you need tons of action or a really intense pace, look elsewhere. The film may lack certain things that would otherwise make it great, but good acting, a solid script that doesn’t beat you over the head with anything, and wonderful cinematography make this film worth your time.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher