Admittedly, I have never been that big a fan of Jeff Nichols’ work. There were those that absolutely adored his “Take Shelter,” while I found it to be a rather tedious slog which lacked a narrative to connect with. There were also those that really enjoyed “Mud,” but once more, the film was undone by shoddy pacing, a bloated runtime, and a story that didn’t hold much interest (though it did contain an excellent performance from Matthew McConaughey). Now he brings us his latest work, entitled “Midnight Special,” a film which has also been receiving a fair bit of praise, but is it truly deserved this time, or is it once again misplaced on a project that is doomed to disappoint?
The film follows a young boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who has been abducted from a cult by his father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and a family friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton). From early on, it’s clear that Alton is a very special little boy, shown not only through his wondrous eyes that flash bright lights, but also through the various abilities he has demonstrated. Alton believes that he is being drawn to a certain spot in Florida that he must reach by a specific date, a task that Roy and Lucas are willing to put their lives on the line for. However, it’s not going to be easy, especially with police on the lookout for them, and the FBI vigorously trying to track them down.
“Midnight Special” is a film that seemed to have quite a lot going for it. Michael Shannon is usually a very dependable actor, having given us several great performances in films like “Revolutionary Road” (which earned him an Oscar nod), “99 Homes” (which earned him a SAG award nod), and “Take Shelter” (he would prove to be the film’s main highlight). It also presents an intriguing premise. All we know of for most of the film is that this young boy has been taken by his father and is being transported to a specific location. We don’t know the reason, nor do we know who or what this young boy is. Is he a normal human with powers, an alien, or something else entirely? It’s the kind of premise that a talented writer could do a million different things with, but alas, it’s coming from Jeff Nichols, who, as noted earlier, has been known to churn out screenplays that end up failing to captivate.
The main problem with “Midnight Special” is that Nichols simply doesn’t do much of anything with the premise that he lays out. It is indeed a fascinating setup, but there’s no story development to be found, the same of which can be said regarding the character development. The characters end up being so flat and so dull that you never end up having a single reason to care about whether they reach their destination or not. Even Michael Shannon seems genuinely uninterested throughout, leading to a very rare bland performance. It’s not his fault though, as his character, along with everyone else, is given so little to do that you truly have to wonder why anyone would sign up for this film in the first place.
If the mystery has somehow kept you watching until the end, even there you will be let down once more. It’s the kind of ending that Nichols didn’t want to bother explaining, so it comes with a general sense of laziness about it. There’s a very slight partial explanation about halfway through, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. If the ending was going to be this weak, Nichols needed to put a lot more effort into the story preceding it, as well as the characters that we follow on what’s supposed to be a suspenseful and emotional journey, for without these attachments, any ending would seemed destined to fail, regardless of how well-written or executed it is.
When it comes right to it, “Midnight Special” is just another forgettable entry in Jeff Nichols’ filmography, one that will scarcely stay in your mind for more than a couple of hours after it ends. However, with such a lack of substance, it’s hardly surprising. There’s simply nothing to grasp on to here, nothing to make this film the least bit memorable. It plays on the screen for about two hours and then disappears, leaving dead air behind in its wake. It’s all the more disappointing because it seems like Nichols wanted to tell a grand, emotional story, one that would really strike a chord with fans of science-fiction, but the flat writing just doesn’t allow him to get anywhere near what he wanted to accomplish, merely leaving one to wonder if he’ll ever churn out something to make him deserving of his decent reputation.
“Midnight Special” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The film has several dark scenes, but the picture is always perfectly sharp and clear, which does a fine job of showing off the film’s decent special effects. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise outstanding, presenting the dialogue, score, and sound effects in great quality. Overall, the film has been given marvelous treatment, leaving little room for complaint.
Origins (13 Minutes): A series of brief featurettes that explore the characters of Roy, Sarah, Lucas, Sevier, and Alton, featuring interviews with Jeff Nichols and the cast.
The Unseen World (5 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at designing the other world.
“Midnight Special” represents another disappointing entry in Jeff Nichols’ filmography, one that suffers from his usual list of problems, including a lacking narrative, poor character development, and shoddy pacing. This was certainly a story that had potential, but with Nichols’ unwillingness to do anything with it, it’s hardly a surprise that it turned out to be an instantly forgettable experience.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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