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Midnight Special film review

This review is by Jacob Kindberg, a film director known for Sing Over Me, a documentary about worship, identity, and the transformative power of the Gospel.

With “Midnight Special” internationally renowned indie director Jeff Nichols makes his first foray into the Sci-fi genre, and for the most part it is a groundbreaking success. The film is smart, unpredictable, and thrilling, but its emotional resonance is hindered by its obscurity and a fumbled third act. With strong performances across the board, a taut script, and incredible visuals, it is a good film that might have been great.

Nichols regular Michael Shannon turns in a typically stellar turn as Roy, the father of Alton, a young boy with mysterious powers played by Jaeden Lieberher. The story follows father and son as they run from multiple groups interested in the child’s unique abilities, including a religious cult and the federal government. Rounding out the incredible cast is Adam Driver, who plays an NSA specialist, Joel Edgerton, a childhood friend of Roy who helps the duo flee, and Kirsten Dunst, Alton’s mother.

The first half of the movie is utterly captivating. Nichols is a master storyteller and you know right away that you are in good hands. He does a great job of letting the mystery slowly unfold while we get to know all the interested parties.

Through some astounding sequences we get glimpses of Alton’s power and we feel the same awe and wonder that has led everyone to feel the way they do about him. The religious group sees Alton as their savior and the government sees him as a weapon. We understand the great lengths everyone is willing to go to in order to get to him.

It is a rare treat these days to watch a film and honestly have no idea where it is heading. That was my experience with “Midnight Special” and it was truly exciting. There is real danger around every turn and Nichols keeps us guessing all the way through the first two acts. He knows how to build suspense with subtlety, using sound design and camera angles very purposefully.

As thrilling as the film is, it is clear that Nichols has more in mind than just keeping us on the edge of our seats. He is far more interested in telling a human story that explores family, death, and faith. Unfortunately, this is where the film falls short.

While it is intellectually stimulating I found it very difficult to connect emotionally with the characters in the way Nichols obviously intended. Because we know very little about the history of the family at the center of the story, it is hard to understand their connections and invest in their plight. The audience is left guessing as to why the family seems to love each other so much but has been separated for at least two years.

In the third act we find out the truth behind Alton’s abilities and the film really loses its potency. The final sequence of events fails to deliver on the promise of the rest of the movie and I was left underwhelmed. As for the themes of faith swirling around the story, I’m not sure what Nichols was trying to say. At one point Roy says that Alton is the only thing he ever believed in and one of the last images we see is Roy all alone looking very lost. I felt similar walking out of the theater, but I still enjoyed the ride.

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