Movie Review: Midnight Special (2016) Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton

midnight special still jaeden lieberher michael shannon

“Dad, you don’t have to worry about me anymore” — Slow-burning and over-ambiguous but a lot of heart

Just so we are clear — this ain’t some dodgy late night TV program. Directed and written by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Shotgun Stories), who has over 90% Rotten Tomatoes score on all three of the previous films he’s done thus far, Midnight Special is about an eight-year-old boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) who has supernatural abilities and is “kidnapped” by his own father Roy (Michael Shannon) with the help of his armed friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and together they journey to an important destination while being hunt down by the FBI, NSA (led by Adam Driver’s character Paul Sevier) and a religious cult.

Being a road trip drama centering around a seemingly non-human lifeform, Midnight Special has a lot of similarities to the plot of John Carpenter’s Starman (1984), both Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and reminded me a bit of Tomorrowland (2015). Heck, even the protagonist’s name in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was Roy. However, Midnight Special is less family-friendly, more gritty, humourless and very slow-paced compared to those films. Regardless, more importantly, its engaging journey has a lot of heart, it’s sincere and it’s subtly moving. There were scenes that jerked some tears out of my eyes, and I’m not ashamed of it.

midnight special still main cast

The film stays compelling, thought-provoking and ambiguous, so much that it can be frustrating to those who wants clear answers to everything. Is the kid an alien, god, wizard or an X-Men? What’s that at the end? Yes, it would’ve been very interesting and more satisfying to know and see more ’cause the film only gives little hints as explanation and shows less than Tomorrowland shows its titular world, but I don’t think it’s necessary as I believe that its science fiction story on the surface may only be gimmicks and a metaphor of what I think the film is truly about deep down inside: parenthood.

As we follow the dangerous and emotionally engaging journey of Alton’s parents, performed very effectively by Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire TV series) and Kirsten Dunst (Spider-man trilogy, Melancholia), as they try their to best to bring their son to he needs to be, it makes me feel the pain and beauty of parenthood — how loving parents believe in their children, sacrifice themselves to help them to achieve their dreams, and ultimately letting them go for their happiness. A fitting performance by Jaeden Lieberher too as Alton with a bit of the younger Macaulay Caukin (Home Alone) charm.

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What I would’ve named the film: “Starman 2: Close Encounters of Tomorrowland”

Malaysia censorship: There isn’t any need for censorship.

Second opinion: (Sorry, none this time. Went to the screening alone.)

Verdict: Reminds us how good films like this could subtly be, films that aren’t made for general audience.

Rating: 4 / 5

midnight special meme alton goggles

midnight special movie poster malaysiaGenre: Sci-fi drama
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director-writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton

Malaysia Release Date: 14 April 2016
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Faliro House Productions, Tri-State Pictures

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