Midnight Special (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst.

A devoted father, Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), goes on the run with his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses special powers. With the help of his childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy is willing to do anything in his power to protect his son from the religious cult and the federal government, who mercilessly pursue him. Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is a sci-fi chase film, which echoes the sci-fi movies of the ’80s.

Image result for midnight special

Whilst visually engaging with an impressive display of special effects, the film is somewhat inconsistent narrative-wise. I found myself both intrigued and restless, but nevertheless fairly uninspired with the general direction of the film. Midnight Special does begin pleasantly enough though, as we are introduced to Alton, and the film establishes that he has been a wanted figure for quite some time. Unlike typical sci-fi films that try to set up the focal point of the story, Midnight Special plunges us straight into the action. The film instantly presents Alton as strange and mysterious, clearly evoking that he is unlike us. He wears goggles wherever he goes and his father keeps him in motel rooms with boarded up windows, as he cannot be exposed to daylight. He has become a nation-wide talking point, as we see Roy and Lucas watching a news story in the early moments of the film, just before they decide to flee with Alton. What follows is a surprisingly slow-paced film, which balances its emphasis on visual storytelling with familiar themes involving the struggles of parenthood.


One of the problems with the film’s storyline is that it never fully discloses most of the characters’ motivations. It is clear that Roy is motivated to protect Alton at all costs, due to his fatherly devotion and his belief that Alton is destined for something great. On the other hand, Lucas seems to lack a purpose in the film and merely provides assistance to Roy and Alton’s various upheavals. There seems to be a lot of unanswered questions and characters lacking goals, as well as them being underdeveloped which appears to be deliberate. I have not seen any of Jeff Nichols previous films, so although the ambiguous style and tone he creates is unique, in Midnight Special, it lacks an edge.

Most of the characters are difficult to emphasise with, and I found myself struggling to engage with Adam Driver’s character, Paul Savier, a specialist that the FBI hire to further interrogate the information they have regarding boy. Driver plays a very dull character with little energy, which is a stark contrast to his excellent performance as Kylo Ren, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The brooding nature of some of the characters is seemingly reflected in the progression of the narrative, and at times, the film really struggled to maintain my interest. However, the relationship between Roy and Alton is very believable. The film positions the viewer within their struggles, as well as the relationship between Alton and his mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), who reconciles with Alton after a period of separation.


Lieberher’s portrayal of Alton is fundamentally what holds the film together, as the whole plot concerns itself with this one character. It is genuinely intriguing to witness the development of Alton, and he seems to represent the idea of believing in the divine and something which is much more powerful than ourselves and everything we know. So there are profound messages about faith, but they are implicit rather than overt.

Furthermore, I believe what most noticeably prevents Midnight Special from being a substantial film, is its anticlimactic ending. In the build-up to the film’s end, it does feel as though something explosive is going to occur, but the ending provides little satisfaction. In terms of achieving mystery and subtlety, the film accomplishes these goals, but its overall tone and narrative direction is very unsatisfying and I found myself often waiting for something really good to happen.

Overall: Perhaps my expectation did not correspond with the type of film Midnight Special is, but it is very unlikely that I will watch this film again. Midnight Special offers a peculiar type of viewing experience, which might not be what you desire or expect. Whilst not a bad film, it is not one that will remain in the memory for too long.

Quoted: “Sometimes we are asked to do things that are beyond us.”


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