Review | Midnight Special

Review | Midnight Special

Midnight Special (2016)


Here at The Unheard Nerd, we’ve run the two major trailers for Midnight Special on the website. To me it looked very intriguing. Here was a story with a sci-fi edge that didn’t give away too much in the trailers and left me wanting for more.

Earlier this month, fellow website writer Will informed me that he had won a competition to attend an early screening of Midnight Special at the Picturehouse Central in London. Also, as an added bonus, the director, Jeff Nichols, was going to introduce the screening personally.

I met with Will at the cinema and we sat down. Jeff Nichols was introduced and he made a short introduction before answering a few questions. I missed the first few seconds in my recording but here is a transcript of his introduction,

“[This film is very much a sci-fi chase film like]…E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Starman and I think you’ll feel a lot of that in this film but more than that this is a very personal film for me. At the heart of it, this is a film really about the way that I feel about my son. Warner Bros financed this film, Eone’s releasing it here in the UK, thank goodness and despite it being a studio film, this is my film. If there’s something in this film you don’t like, it’s my choice and I’m okay with that. But hopefully when the whole thing is said and done, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. You’ll see this personal connection that I had with this film. I’m very proud of it.”

After a few further questions were answered, the lights dimmed and the film began.


In the sci-fi thriller “Midnight Special,” writer/director Jeff Nichols proves again that he is one of the most compelling storytellers of our time, as a father (Michael Shannon), goes on the run to protect his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and uncover the truth behind the boy’s special powers. What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government. Ultimately his father risks everything to protect Alton and help fulfill a destiny that could change the world forever, in this genre–defying film as supernatural as it is intimately human.

My Thoughts

Michael Shannon plays Roy, a father who has stolen his son, Alton, back from a religious cult. The cult believes the boy has special powers, especially as he has been somehow revealing encrypted information transmitted by satellite. This, of course, has piqued the interest of the FBI.

Roy wants to help his son and believes that he must take Alton to a specific place, at a certain time in order to do this. Something will happen but no one knows what. Maybe they’ll become a part of or witness a world changing event, no one knows exactly what for sure.

With the help of a childhood friend, Lucas, Roy and Alton make their way across the country pursued by the cult church and the FBI. So begins the plot of Midnight Special.

As the director mentioned in his introduction, this is a sci-fi chase film but don’t walk into this film expecting car chases and explosive action because this is not that kind of story. Instead, what we have is clearly a film that shows a father’s undying devotion to his son, despite his unusual abilities.

Michael Shannon’s performance as Roy was simply great. Before I watched this film I had only seen him as the alien soldier from Krypton, Zod, as seen in Man of Steel. I had also seen him in the lesser known Premium Rush with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Clearly he is a better actor than I had realized.

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Roy’s friend Lucas who helps transport the boy across the country is played by Joel Edgerton. Another great performance of a character that will do anything to get the young boy, Alton, to this important appointment with destiny. This is further emphasized when Lucas’s normal day to day job is revealed to the audience.

Alton’s mother Sarah is introduced into the film at a later point and she is portrayed by Kirsten Dunst whose acting skills seem to be improving with age. Having only known her from the Spider-Man trilogy, it was surprising to see a wonderful performance from her in the second season of FX’s television adaptation of Fargo. In Midnight Special, she is just as good if not better.

Adam Driver is a name that has been propelled highly into the whirlwind of famous actors due to his performance as Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As this was his only work I was familiar with apart from the great Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base sketch from Saturday Night Live, I was keen to see him again here as an NSA agent that leads the FBI searches for Alton.

Driver plays Paul Sevier, a man who not only discovers where the boy is going but will soon have his thoughts on the whole situation change due to events I don’t want to relay here for spoiler reasons.

Finally, the last of my praise must go to Jaeden Lieberher, the young boy who plays the uniquely gifted child, Alton. Although he has these unique abilities he doesn’t understand why he has them. He isn’t a superhero but as the film progresses, both Alton and the audience will understand why he possesses these special abilities as new information comes to light.

Jeff Nichols has directed what I’m going to call a slow chase film. Whilst the story does have our heroes chased by two separate parties, the church cult, and the FBI, this isn’t a fast paced action piece. Our heroes need to rest in between long night drives, we see how the FBI calculates where there going and their own chase for the Alton.

The film runs just shy of two hours but for me, it never felt slow or boring as I was hugely enjoying the story and where it ultimately leads. Speaking of which, I was very happy with the films ending.

As stated by the director in our personal introduction and from watching the film, it’s really about a boy and his father. As I have two sons myself, I felt that I connected with the story and was emotionally satisfied by the end.

Director Jeff Nichols has stated in an interview that when he wrote the film, he created a huge backstory for all the characters and events and cut a slice of that story out and transformed that one piece into Midnight Special.

What I’m trying to say is that there will be many who feel that the film leaves many questions unanswered especially with the ending but not for me. I felt enough was given to move along the story and to allow the audience to understand what was needed.

This is a great film and I’m giving a definite thumbs up.

Midnight Special has already opened in the US and opens in the UK on Friday 8th April.

For more release dates in your part of the world, check IMDb.

John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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