Movie Review - Midnight Special

This film feels like Safety Not Guaranteed or similar Sundance festival titles that will use a science-fiction hook for what ends up as a low-budget, road trip movie. This film could also be considered a poor man's version of Tomorrowland. It seems to survive or putter along due to strong performances, but the writing is ultimately hollow and when it comes to conversations about sci-fi ideas or concepts, this film doesn't advance things or offer up anything new. I just don't see the point, unless like Safety Not Guaranteed, this movie is just an audition reel so that director Jeff Nichols can do something bigger like possibly a blockbuster with Warner Bros.

Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road and Man of Steel) stars as Roy Tomlin, a man who used to live on a ranch in Texas that doubled as a cult. The cult seems to be built around his 8-year-old son. What's unclear is if the cult is new, meaning it's less than 8 years-old itself, or if the cult preceeded the birth of Roy's son.

Jaeden Lieberher co-stars as Alton Meyer, the 8-year-old in question. He doesn't have Roy's last name, so it's unclear if he's the biological son of Roy or that of the cult leader, played by Sam Shepard. Either way, Roy is the man who seems to have raised Alton. Why the cult and ultimately why the government is interested is the fact that Alton has super powers. Alton can detect certain things that others can't like radio frequencies and he can channel certain energies that he can discharge in certain ways like blue light from his eyes, which can affect, if not hypnotize people.

The movie is a road trip and that road trip is Roy taking Alton to a specific place at a specific time, that time being Friday, March 6. The FBI has raided the ranch where the cult was and is looking for the boy because the cult leader confesses that the boy dictated information from secret, government satellites, which is an illegal act. Therefore, Roy and Alton are on the run from the FBI.

A lot of people have compared this to specific, sci-fi films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Starman (1984). For me, I was reminded of an episode of The X-Files, its fourth episode from the first season, titled "Conduit." I was also reminded of Firestarter (1984). That 1984 film had a Stephen King novel behind it, but The X-Files episode was so much richer and detailed with way more layers on it than this.

Nichols seems to pride himself on the conceit that he concocts and that literally drives the first half of this film. Then, all of a sudden, he drops a deus ex machina in that Alton now knows everything and has total control of his abilities. Of course, this opens up a floodgate of questions that Nichols has no interest of exploring.

Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby and Exodus: Gods and Kings) plays Lucas, an ex-state trooper who decides to help Roy and Alton. Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man and Interview With the Vampire) plays Sarah, the so-called mother of Alton who is living off the ranch but tags along on the road trip. Both Edgerton and Dunst are wasted. Nichols' script attempts one conversation about their back-stories, but then Nichols quickly backs off it. No investment is made, or at least not enough investment is made, thus at the end no care can be had for them.

Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays Paul Sevier, a NSA agent who is like the Fox Mulder of this story but vastly more nerdy. Presumably, he has an entire car ride alone with Alton whom he knows has super powers. Yet, Nichols has no interest in showing us this car ride. Presumably, Paul would be curious and have questions, but Nichols doesn't want us to hear those questions because he doesn't want to answer them.

Nichols merely wants to hint at a bigger world but never wants truly to take us there. This would be acceptable, if the rest of the film wasn't so pedestrian and dull.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and action.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


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