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Movie Breakdown: Midnight Special (Noah)

April 1, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jeff Nichols is one of those directors, like the Coen Brothers, where I don’t really care what their next movie is, just that they continue to make movies. It does help though that Nichols’ new one is about a kid with special abilities getting kidnapped.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It is a long proven point that the very best science fiction, or genre film in general, uses the trappings of aliens and spaceships and laser guns to tell a very human story. Genre allows a writer the ability to take the smallest kernel of an idea or theme and expand it to its most exaggerated, unbelievable place, all the while threading a smaller, more emotional string through the whole of the film. Jeff Nichols is quite frankly, a master of doing this. His films before this have tread the line of exploitation and apocalypse and southern-fried crime, but always turning the larger concept of each genre on their heads, allowing the audience to see the soft, sensitive belly that lies beneath. Midnight Special, the title itself alluding in some way to a late night horror flick you might catch on Cinemax in the 80s, follows this trend, finding human meaning in the story of a boy with special abilities, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and the trio of forces trying to take him as their own. The film starts in media res, two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton in all their trashy criminal glory) are packing up a hotel room in the middle of the night, while Alton sits underneath a sheet wearing goggles and construction worker ear protectors, reading a comic book by flashlight. A television screen blares with news that the boy has been kidnapped by one of the men in the room. Nichols doesn’t force feed exposition down our throat, instead he slowly unwinds the various forces at play – The Ranch (a cult), the FBI/NSA, and Alton’s family. He lets the audience genuinely connect with Alton and his father (Michael Shannon) and the strange, harried relationship they have as a pair of fugitives. Nichols pushes the slow pace almost to a breaking point where the lack of concrete information and action might distract the audience, but each time he hits the edge, he drops another bread crumb, yanking you back in. It’s essential that he does this though, as the genre trappings (though breathtaking when the film needs breathtaking) are merely his way of exploring the touching relationship between Alton and his father Ray. Because as invested as we are in the trio’s flight, and the bad guys who follow them, the true story lies in a desperate man just trying to find a few more precious moments with his very special son. Each of the other characters are just stale reflections of Ray’s love for Alton. The Ranch wants him because they falsely worship him; Adam Driver and the FBI want him because of heartfelt curiosity; but Alton’s father wants nothing more than to do what he can to protect his son, mainly because he wants to spend a few more hours in his presence. It’s beautiful work by all involved.

One Last Thought:

The pairing of Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols is one of the great director/actor combos of all times. Their next film, Loving, looks to be just as fascinating as everything else they’ve done.

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Movie Breakdown: Midnight Special

March 17, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

As far as I’m concerned, Jeff Nichols has yet to make a bad film.  Shotgun Stories, Mud, Take Shelter – they’re all pretty damn great.  This leaves me with no choice but to assume that the sci-fi-looking Midnight Special will for sure be another brilliant effort by the writer/director.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you’ve read anything about Midnight Special, then you’ve probably seen people reference Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T.  That’s pretty accurate, as the film does indeed feel like a healthy mix of the two Spielberg flicks.  I will say this though, even with those easy-to-make comparisons, writer/director Jeff Nichols does still manage to make Midnight Special feel like its own thing.

The film is about two men (played by the ever-fantastic Michael Shannon and a very earnest Joel Edgerton) trying to get a strangely gifted young boy (played gingerly by Jaeden Lieberher) to a specific location.  They don’t know why the location is significant, they just know they have get the kid, Alton, there by a certain date.  There’s also something else at play, Alton has been reported as kidnapped, which in turn means that Midnight Special is also a chase movie.  So, aside from the obvious sci-fi angle that’s there to dazzle you, the film also has a healthy dose of intensity and suspense that comes from its main characters being on the run and operating on a very tight schedule.  I won’t say anything more, as it’s a film that can be easily spoiled and is totally best left fully experienced in theater, but just know that it has a lot more to offer than what I just slapped down here.  As soon as you can, run to the theater and take in the prime example of brilliant storytelling that is Midnight Special.

One Last Thought:

Isn’t it about time that Hollywood just started tossing Michael Shannon in everything?  I think so.  That guy is so good.

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