Midnight Special


Midnight Special is a film I definitely enjoyed, but didn’t quite know what to make of it. I likely the sort of 70s throwback to Close Encounters feel of it, but as with many films, the point of it all eludes me. There was a lot to love about this film, and I’m very glad I made the trip out to the theater for it. Unfortunately though, the big picture I’m still a bit lost on.

Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a small boy with special powers. Before the film begins, his father Roy (Micheal Shannon) kidnaps him from a religious cult who believes he is their savior. Along with Ray’s childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgarton), and Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Roy and Alton travel across the country avoiding both the cult who wants their savoir back and the government who wants to discover exactly what Alton’s powers consist of.


Wouldn’t we all. One of the cool things about this movie is how information is doled out in the early going. It’s more about how much backstory Nichols is letting the audience in on rather than what is specifically happening at any given moment. As such, Alton’s powers and why everyone is after them are not as clearly depicted as they might be, but considering how cleverly the exposition we do get is handled, I’d much rather have it this way. We do get clues as to what Alton’s powers are throughout the film, but they or their significance are never fully defined, something that is both frustrating and wondrous.

Seeing other characters’ reaction to Alton throughout the film is interesting, especially his mother’s and father’s. Something that almost causes a rift in the group is whether or not to take Alton to the hospital when his abilities seem to be sapping him of strength. Though it’s clear his parents love him, they seem think getting Alton to location he’s supposed to be in at a certain time (the religious cult believes this is their day of judgement it’s unclear as to what it actually is) is worth nearly sacrificing the boy’s life. We learn later in the film from Sarah that the cult required Alton to be raised by the leader (Sam Shepard) rather than his own father, and that may explain the distance between them a bit. It’s definitely not your typical father-son road trip dynamics. He seems to be more playful around Lucas at some point, which causes a unconventional vibe among the group.


The acting in this film is phenomenal. It’s not the overly demonstrative Oscar-baity type of BIG acting you see in some films. The power is in the closeups, and the lines of the actors faces and the emotions in their eyes. This level of attention to actor’s faces is something you don’t see in a lot of films, and it definitely elevates the emotional impact of the film. The exact emotions playing out of Shannon’s (in particular) face are sometimes unclear, but in the theater I could feel it for sure. There’s also a scene towards the end where part of Alton’s origins are revealed visually, and any special effects they can sum up there fall short of the visual power of the closeups of the amazed bystanders.

I think I would say I liked Midnight Special. Is it a movie that will become a favorite that I will come back to again and again over the years? Probably not, but I really had a good time in the theater with it, even if I’m not quite sure what it was all about, exactly. It has a lot of impact in a theater especially, so if you’re on the fence about it my advice would be to opt for the theater experience and not wait to watch it at home.


Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

The New York Times review 


4 responses to “Midnight Special

  1. YES, I loved reading this review. I really enjoyed this film, and while I’ve read deeper outlooks into this movie, I think you are on the right track of the film not really giving us all the information so it can be wondrous, it basically plays out like a chase film, and you are just sitting there wondering more and more about his powers and where this is all leading too.

    ****Spoiler***** I rubbed my eyes on the last shot of the film so i missed it, def going back to see the film Wednesday, but if this is true, it would explain why Shannon’s character was so adamant on not taking him to the hospital asides from not wanting them to know his powers and being tested on etc, but he knew that his son would make survive it all, and due to the lack of information, I almost see it has they came to like check out the planet or whatever and his kid got swooped up, so he needed to bring him back to their home planet where he can really like hone his powers, because he was clearly unstable. I really wish that they would have kept the world the kid was from merged with earth. It was a spectacle for me because I didn’t see it coming at all, and I begin to think of all the possibilities that could happen with the two worlds exchanging information, and how their technology would propel earth forward and all and I really loved that it wasn’t just a few people who saw it, but EVERYBODY saw it, and were aware that there was life other than their own, so that was really cool *****Spoiler over****

    I think this one definitely isn’t as clear as Take Shelter, and I definitely can see why you might not end up watching this over and over, but I’m really glad you saw it in theaters because I’m a big Nichols fan even though i’ve only seen half of Mud, but I love Take Shelter, it gets better and better with every view because of the sense of mystery and of course Michael Shannon, I feel like Midnight Special will be the same.

    • Yeah I might watch this one again, but I don’t super feel the need to.
      The ending was pretty cool for sure.
      I know I should watch more of Nichols, because everybody loves his stuff, but as of right now I’m just kind of like *shrug* he’s pretty good. Lol

  2. Fine review. I love this film and for me it is another example of Jeff Nichols’ fabulous filmmaking. It plays in so many genres and it does it extremely well. I loved its reveals as well as its ambiguity. Can’t praise it enough.

    • I really did love how they handled the exposition and the flow of information to the audience in this movie. One of the best things about it, along with the closeups!

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