Midnight Special

500 Days Of Film Reviews Sci Fi Thriller, Midnight Special, Starring Michael Shannon And Joel Edgerton


Desperate father, Roy (Michael Shannon) goes on the run with his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), to protect him from the clutches of religious extremists and the Federal Government.


Roy needs to keep Alton safe. He knows that Alton is not of this world - that he is meant for something greater.


Roy believes that it is his job as a father to help his son achieve his higher purpose - no matter what the cost.   

Is It Any Good?

I have long had high hopes for Midnight Special.


After all, here is a film directed by the talented Jeff Nicols (Mud, Take Shelter) and starring the brilliantly intense Michael Shannon (playing the lead role of Roy). The supporting cast of Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver also looked impressive.


What could go wrong - surely I was going to love Midnight Special?


I am happy to report that I did. This film is wonderful, soulful and smart. It made me think of other Sci Fi / government chase movies from the 80s. Films like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Starman and ET.


Of course, this is exactly how we are meant to feel (lense flare and all). Nichols has been open about how Midnight Special is a homage to the 80s Sci Fi movies that he loves. 


However, Midnight Special is more than just a remake. This otherworldly film is also an intimate examination of family and what it means to be a parent. Nicols was inspired to write this screenplay after becoming a father and experiencing the reality of having a person in your life that you would do anything for.



Midnight Special features truly powerful performances. Michael Shannon is (as always) superb. Nichols wrote the part for him knowing that he could express in one look more than pages of script could convey. 


Shannon is brilliant. He is determined, desperate and scared - and we feel every emotion. At one point, Alton tells his Dad that he doesn’t need to worry about him anymore. Roy replies that he wants to worry about his son - that it is part of the fatherhood deal. That small moment just says so much about parenthood.


Roy enlists his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to help him get Alton away from his religious sect (fronted by a chilling but underused Sam Shepard) and the government. Lucas is there to ask some of the questions that we, the audience, want to ask. His worries are ours and, thanks to Edgerton’s brilliant performance, he gives the film heart and soul. 


However, Lucas is not there for exposition. Nichols credits his audience with intelligence and makes us work to find the answers in Midnight Special. The clues are there but nothing is handed over on a plate. There is much to think about - both during the film and afterwards. 



Adam Driver gives another great performance in Midnight Special. (His are an increasingly safe pair of hands.) Driver plays the smart NSA specialist trying to solve the mystery that is Alton. He brings comedy into the story - and some much needed relief from the tension. 


However, I did feel that Driver and Kirsten Dunst were both underutilized. Perhaps their roles had to be reigned in to keep the film's running time manageable (1 hr 51 mins). I would have enjoyed seeing more from both impressive actors. 


While Midnight Special focuses on the relationship between Roy and Alton, it is also a slow burn, Sci Fi government chase movie. These parts of the film are darkly powerful, intense and often shocking. The scene in the petrol station was particularly impressive - as is the big reveal at the end of the film.


At the end I was satisfied that I had watched a film that you just don’t see that often. It made me feel full of nostalgia and I now want to revisit all of those great 80s Sci Fi classics.* 


Midnight Special is a wonderful, intelligent film loaded with tension, soul and Sci Fi. This is one that I would recommended.      


Random Observations

* I don’t think I can sit through ET without dissolving into a big mess. That film and Close Encounters move me more than I am happy to admit. I, of  course, blame John Williams (nothing to do with me being a complete wuss). 


While David Wingo’s score is haunting, it just doesn’t pack the Williams punch and I didn’t feel as emotional at the end of Midnight Special. Perhaps that was by design as I think Michael Shannon could have moved me to tears - his performance was so beautifully raw. 


Have you seen Midnight Special? If you have, what did you think of this movie? Let me know by leaving me a comment in the box below!


If you enjoyed Michael Shannon in this film, check out his superb performances in Take Shelter and 99 Homes.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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