April 25, 2016
"Midnight Special" has been receiving critical acclaim since its debut as a film in competition at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February this year (the same festival where Filipino film "Hele sa Himalang Hapis" won its Silver Bear). This week, it was released locally in only five movie houses (none of which were in an SM nor Ayala Mall).
Alton is a boy who was being worshipped by a Texas cult because of special powers he possessed. One night, he was spirited away by his biological father Roy in order to bring him to a specific place in Florida on a specific date for a big event Alton had previously prophesied. The FBI was also on their trail because Alton's prophesies coincided with top secret government data encoded in satellites.
The sci-fi plot is very intriguing, infused with the excitement of a chase and emotion of a family drama. It took time to get to the meat of the story though. I did not immediately understand what was going on at first and I almost gave up. However, when you do get the drift of the story, you will get drawn into the plight of this father, his special son and their quest to reach their destination against all odds.
Michael Shannon was also Nichols' star in "Take Shelter", where he played a mentally-disturbed man who wanted to save his family from a coming storm. In "Midnight", Shannon played Roy, a father who, despite all the danger, wanted nothing else but to conduct his son safely to where he needed to go. Shannon already earned an Oscar nomination for his work in "Revolutionary Road" before, and it was evident here the intensity of his acting.
Joel Edgerton, who is one of the better character actors of this present generation, played Roy's old friend, who helps him with his mission. Kirsten Dunst also makes a limited appearance as Alton's mother. Adam Driver, whom we now know better as Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars film, plays a sympathetic FBI agent. However above all of them, we witness a riveting performance by the child actor Jaeden Lieberher, who played a most difficult role as Alton, the innocent child whose powers possessed and overwhelmed him.
Director Jeff Nichols continues to earn critical acclaim with his every project. Most recently, there were "Take Shelter" (2011) and "Mud" (2012) before this present one. In common with these three films is a flawed and troubled male central character. There were children involved in the drama in these three films. Sadly, "Midnight Special" is only the first Nichols film I had seen. It had gotten me curious to watch his previous films as well.
This film is not exactly mainstream. It could have given some Spielbergian elements, but it did not go that way. The premise was so good, but there seemed to be a lot of questions that crop up as the ending approached. It is a film that makes us pause to contemplate about the plot (and its probable holes) after watching it. The acting by the cast is very good despite some unclear and ponderous storytelling, and it made a strong case for me to stay with the film to the very end. 6/10.