Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Movie Review #412: "Midnight Special" (2016)

Movie"Midnight Special"
Director: Jeff Nichols
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
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A young boy with unique gifts named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), his father Roy (Michael Shannon), and their friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are trying to reach a certain place on a certain date for an unknown reason. As long as they have been on the run, they have been pursued by a cult who believe the boy is their messiah, the NSA and the FBI who believe he may be a weapon, and the local police who believe the boy has been kidnapped.

"Midnight Special" is an indie sci-fi drama from writer/director Jeff Nichols, who has a penchant for keeping Michael Shannon gainfully employed. Nichols received some minor notoriety a couple years ago with his 2012 film "Mud," a movie we enjoyed quite a bit. Taking this into account, plus the fact that we heard positive buzz about this film while it was still in limited release, plus the outstanding cast, we were very much looking forward to it. Now that we've seen it, we have to admit we're a little underwhelmed by it. The film stars the aforementioned Michael Shannon, Jeff Nichols' apparent muse. We're not understating this at all: Shannon has been in every single movie Nichols has done. Shannon plays Roy, the father of a young boy with special powers named Alton, played by Jaeden Lieberher, who we loved in 2014's "St. Vincent." Roy has "kidnapped" his son from a ranch, which is where Roy and Alton have lived and is also home to a cult where they had been members. This cult believes Alton to be their savior. However, Roy believes he must get his son to a certain location on a certain date because reasons. The cops are looking for Roy and Alton, and they must move fast to evade capture. To do this, Roy has enlisted the help of an old friend named Lucas, played by Joel Edgerton, another recent favorite of ours, to get them as far away from the ranch as possible. Because of his powers, Alton has managed to intercept some top secret, highly classified government information, which makes him a target of the NSA and FBI. All of these groups are looking to get Alton for their own purposes before said specific date and time.  

One thing we both agreed on right after the movie was over is that "Midnight Special" does not need to be as long as it is. We were not annoyed with the amount of time we were in the theater, but we were left puzzled as to why the movie is simultaneously dialed back and overlong. With a bit of truncation here and there, as well as some tightening up of its script and narrative, this could have been a much more clear and concise story, even with several unanswered questions as the credits roll. The amount of actual compelling content could fit in an extended television episode, and everything else, including the dialogue and its delivery, seems to have been stretched out to nearly two hours in length. It all gets off to a brilliantly strong and intriguing start, but the further we get into it and the more that gets revealed, the less we cared, which is a shame. Nichols tries to sell it as a slow-burning kind of mystery thriller, but any revelation past the first 30 minutes is pretty underwhelming. The filmmakers leave the right amount of enigma for the audience, and the end of the film is pretty amazing, but there's just a little something left to be desired. The acting is great. We like Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst, and Adam Driver as actors, but it doesn't really feel like there's a lot of chemistry between any of the characters until the very end of the movie. Finally, probably the best part of the film is its special effects. When combined with some magnificent cinematography, the science fiction parts of the story really get to shine. Other big budget films don't even get the CGI and special effects this good, and the end visual product is quite stunning.

"Midnight Special" has a couple of really great moments but lacks a certain emotional weight we felt it needed to really drive its point, whatever it may have been, home. We do like the overall concept, but felt it could have been executed a little better. Please, Jeff Nichols and everyone else that makes movies like this, don't ever stop making them! Just because we were a little disappointed here doesn't mean the next one will be the same case! Always make movies people perceive as different.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "Unfriended"

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