For this review, I’m going to steal the IO9 format for reviews, a Q&A Style.
What is Midnight Special?
It is the newest film by Jeff Nichols, who, as my dad said before the movie, was “3 for 3” in good movies. He didn’t say “4 for 4” after the movie.
Okay but doesn’t your dad like Terrence Malick and poetic films and foreign language films? This looks like a cool supernatural road-trip movie.
Yes, but that isn’t the problem. He loves all sorts of movies. If it was a cool supernatural road-trip movie he probably would have liked it a lot more actually, but it wasn’t.
So what is it?
A good idea that had no ending that someone greenlighted anyway.
So the ending is bad?
The ending is so bad it invalidates the whole film.
Okay. but back up. Is it good before the ending?
Let me start from the beginning. [Warning: Spoiler Alerts ahead!] So the story is about Alton, who is a little boy (super cute Jaeden Lieberher) with unusual abilities. He can shoot lasers out of his eyes, bring down satellites, create bomb-thingies, scream out government coordinate thingies, and a lot of other random thingies. And that’s all you’ll ever know about that. A cult living on a ranch is created after they hear him speaking random numbers, and somehow sermons are created from the numbers.
Exactly. So the government sends Kylo Ren to find Alton, who is on the run with his father, Roy (a good, but somewhat muted Michael Shannon), mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst, who is reduced to looking mildly upset), and their friend Lukas (Joel Edgerton.) Their mission is to get Alton to a field, which they have been planning for for years, yet the day before they get there, Alton tells them what will actually happen when they get there.
That sounds cool, though.
Yeah, until the end when Alton and his mom finally get to their destination and all that happens is that Tomorrowland from Tomorrowland shows up, Alton goes off with some misty alien dudes (misty because the special effects budget ran out,) and Sarah looks mildly unhappy, cuts her hair to signify change, and Lukas and Roy go to jail.
So was Alton an alien the whole time?
WE NEVER KNOW. All he says is he is “from the future” and “a distant time” and he doesn’t belong here and his parents act like this seems reasonable, odd since they gave birth to him.
So Alton was a plot MacGuffin! I figured the movie out. It was an artistic statement.
No. Sorry, you didn’t figure it out. A plot MacGuffin works if in the end it doesn’t matter. The journey is what matters. EXCEPT THE JOURNEY HERE DOESN’T MATTER IF WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ALTON IS. The journey is fairly entertaining, and I am a huge sucker for road trip movies, but the motivation, the character’s sympathy, all rests on figuring out what Alton is. When it turns out it doesn’t matter, the journey is useless, the characters are as unreachable as ever, and why the heck did we even bother?
Maybe it was a political statement.
Don’t you dare use that line on me, that is my line and it does not apply here.
Okay, so the ending was bad, making the whole movie’s plot bad. Were there any redeeming things?
The acting was good. Even though the characters were hard to relate too, they were all well-acted. The style of the film was nice. The world-building, with the simple ways the deep south was represented, was subtle. And I really enjoyed a lot of the action. The car chase at the end and the kidnapping of Alton were really exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I also really liked Adam Driver’s performance (save for some of his plot conveniences, casually explained by the screenwriter as, “Look! He’s a nerd! He could obviously figure this out!”)
Adam Driver plays a nerdy government worker that creates plot conveniences?
Okay, so should I see it?
If you like Jeff Nichols, go see it. If you like road trip movies with random endings, go see it. If you like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, don’t see it. And if you’re like all the critics who are praising this movie for its vagueness, go see it.
What if I need to choose between seeing this movie and another movie?
Choose the other movie.
What if that other movie is God’s Not Dead 2?
Then, for the love of cinema, save your money for The Jungle Book.