Midnight Special (aka Untitled Jeff Nichols/Sci-Fi Project) review by Adrijan Arsovski - Cinema Paradiso
Midnight special, albeit original in its premise and possibly its execution thereof, falls short of managing to excite audiences and becomes yet another piece of a poorly told Sci-Fi tale that sounds better when read on paper as opposed to watching its events unfold on the big screen.
When it comes to titles, movies often fall between two extremes: either not having enough connections to relate said title to the unraveling narrative, or their titles directly relate (in one form or another) to a certain plot point or character that are key to understanding the movies’ syuzhet. Midnight Special is part of neither, and both at the same time – its title may suggest irrelevancy to everything that’s going on, but it’s in fact subtly interwoven all throughout the main theme of the movie.
In American folk culture terms, “Midnight Special” is a song dating around the first half of the 20-th century. In it, a train called Midnight Special is asked to “shine light” upon the singer. Also, the train name corresponds with a real train covering track between Chicago and St. Louis – with one way station being Alton, Illinois. The connection at this point comes obvious as a rock hitting a lake’s surface: our main character’s name is Alton.
But, what does that have to do anything with the story?
For starters, kid Alton Meyer (played by Jaeden Lieberher) can propel concentrated beams of white light via his eyes. Anyone who looks him while he does so becomes mesmerized and loses all touch with reality during that little séance.
Furthermore, Alton possesses supernatural abilities to intercept all kinds of telecommunication, and as such becomes a great interest to all kinds of strange people – including those currently in power.
Without delving into great detail, it’s clear the boy is wanted, and it only becomes logical thus far. But, writer and director Jeff Nichols never cares to explain why this is true and at a point it becomes frustrating to have a constant stream of new plot points without any kind of relief.
Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst play Alton’s parents and do a decent enough job to portray their great care, and at the same time – failure to provide their son with a normal childhood as every kid ought to have. Lucas (played by Joel Edgerton) seems like it only exists to tag along in the whole ordeal without clearly developed traits and character motivations. NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) gets to interact with Alton, but both characters seem confused both in the narrative and outside in real life as actors.
Perhaps Midnight Special’s redeeming qualities lay in the ideas hidden behind the clumsy writing and (at times) questionable direction it takes, but as it is – they are too convoluted for one to actually care about, let alone wholeheartedly recommend this movie experience.