Friday, 8 April 2016

Midnight Special - Dir. Jeff Nichols

As a genre, science-fiction is most often utilised as a vessel to challenge philosophical ideas or to channel observations of the present through a futuristic or alternate reality (Ex Machina and High-Rise being two fine recent examples). Midnight Special isn’t either of these those things; it’s more comparable relative is something like Lost, where only what happened to the characters on a mysterious island is relevant and not the mystery behind the island itself. Midnight Special is a chase drama that happens to feature a child with superpowers.

That child is Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), the eight-year old son of Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon), who is fleeing across the southern states with Roy and his accomplice Lucas (Joel Edgerton), just ahead of both the US government and a religious cult on their trail.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols steps up to a studio budget but doesn’t leave his finely honed storytelling instincts behind. His instincts drop us further into the story than expect, but he doesn’t forget to give us the information we need. Most of what happens before the start of the film isn’t important and Nichols feeds us the little nuggets of backstory as and when we need them. His film is a chase movie at heart and by asking us to play catch-up throughout the film, we feel a similar uncertainty to that of Roy, Alton and Lucas.

The Spielberg comparisons are appropriate but Midnight Special also shares the same simmering intensity and propensity for outbursts of violence of the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, although the pessimism of that film is thankfully replaced with something much more inspiring. Midnight Special is a film not only about the acceptance of the inevitability of what we cannot control, but the commitment to and the pride taken in what we can control. For Roy, this is getting his son to where he needs to be even though he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, echoing Nichols’ own feelings about raising his son. To me, it simply spoke of life and how although we may not control our departure from this Earth, the spent on it is very much our own.

Some may be frustrated by the somewhat vague resolutions offered but the fact is that they don’t really matter; as it turns out, the truth is not out there but much closer to home instead.

Midnight Special is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th April 2016.

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