Cinematic Releases: Midnight Special

Andrew reviews one of the finest science fiction films of 2016, Midnight Special.

Get off my lawn!
The fourth feature of writer-director Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special, marks the gifted auteur's first studio produced effort and as such one of the finest science fiction films of the year!  Evoking the childlike wonderment of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial with greater clarity and captivation than J.J. Abrams' like minded Super 8, Midnight Special hooks you from the beginning with an intriguingly mysterious premise aided by characters you come to care for and as with John Carpenter's Starman an achingly beautiful emotional crux lies at the epicenter.  Moreover, it manages that rare feat of drawing inspiration from familiar territories like the ones aforementioned and still show viewers something they haven't seen before.  The framework is something we've seen dozens of times but not with this unique mixture of science fiction, fantasy, elements of the supernatural and an underpinning of small town American drama.  Most of all, Midnight Special functions as a thrilling big screen entertainment while still being an engrossing character driven drama with real moments of spectacle and awe to behold.  Simply put, this is one of the finest films of 2016 and proof positive Jeff Nichols is the best writer-director of small town American character driven dramas since David Gordon Green and Ramin Bahrani!

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I'm mother f'in Kylo Ren. 
First and foremost is the cast, beginning with Nichols' right hand man Michael Shannon of Shotgun Stories, Mud and Take Shelter.  To suggest Shannon is one of the most gifted actors of our generation would be an understatement.  His ability to convey complex emotions without them feeling forced or melodramatic is a testament to his endless talents as an actor.  Equally strong is Joel Edgerton as a longtime friend who finds himself thrust into a fight or flight battle for his friend's son.  Fresh off The Force Awakens is Adam Driver in arguably the Claude Lacombe role from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, offering up his own insight on the picture's strange phenomenon as well as reflecting our own collective curiosity and fear of the unknown.  Visually Midnight Special is absolutely beautiful with longtime Nichols collaborator Adam Stone providing his trademark excellent cinematography full of wide open vistas of southern fields and plains beset by an otherworldly event.  Also by Nichols side is regular composer David Wingo who provides one of the loveliest scores I've heard in a movie theater all year.  Not since Clint Mansell's score for The Fountain has a soundtrack reached emotionally for the heavens and it was unquestionably an overwhelming listening experience.  

I wear my sunglasses at night
so I can, so I can. 
One of the most exciting aspects of Midnight Special is that despite knowing all the notes previously sung by Spielberg and Carpenter, it still manages to surprise and engage us every step of the way.  In the hands of another director today this would have been a plot driven procedural of exposition, but with Nichols it allows his characters breathing room so we grow vested in their plight and care about what happens to them.  Touching on everything from the love and devotion of a parent to pondering the possibility of a world beyond our own, Midnight Special looks to the stars as it introspects on the idea of a messianic being inhabiting the world of the living.  It isn't often a science fiction thriller says this much about the gulf between understanding our purpose in this life while looking to infinity and beyond.   What's more, as an effects driven film with many astonishing vistas inside, Midnight Special proves you don't need a $200 million budget to generate images as gorgeous and awe inspiring as the ones seen here.  Furthermore, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and maybe even 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is that science fiction film which only comes along once in a great while that is as much of a sensory audiovisual experience as it is a spiritual one.  


 - Andrew Kotwicki