When I was travelling by plane recently I had the choice of a number of movies to watch and among them was the newly released on DVD, Midnight Special. Starring Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, it is written and directed by Jeff Nichols and I had heard good things about it.
I fired up the movie and then almost instantly stopped it again because I had already made the mistake of watching Hunt for The Wilderpeople on the outward plane journey and I did not want to repeat the error. All films are designed for the cinema, some you can just about get away with watching on a large home screen but watch some for the first time on a tiny aeroplane screen at your peril. I had already compromised my enjoyment of one indie gem and within a minute of Midnight Special starting, I felt that this was going to be quality storytelling -the kind that you might expect from someone brought up watching Speilberg – and I was not willing to make the same mistake on the return trip.
I knew the film had a SciFi premise and that reviews had been generally positive, but wary of spoiling the plot. The film opens in a motel room in which we find two men and a young boy. One of the men is his father and the other a family friend. It becomes very quickly obvious that they are on the run and there is something about the boy that is not normal.
It turns out that he is far from normal, and his strangeness is what is causing the flight and the chase. Hot on their tracks are the religious group where there have been living, who believe the boy has special powers and have built a cult around what they believe are his prophecies. Right behind them are the FBI who recognise the ‘prophecies’ as confidential information that the boy is somehow communicating and who want to know how and why.
And right at the centre we have the father and his son, running from both.
We know they have to get somewhere and there is some urgency, but why and how this will all work is what gives the film its momentum as they race against time to beat their pursuers to the goal, picking up his mother on the way (played by Kirsten Dunst). Part of the beauty of this film is the way it tells the story and the way it holds its information back for the viewer, so you are doing the work. It is not a difficult plot to follow: people in car driving from A to B with other people in pursuit, but there is none of that, ‘So tell me again why we are here?’ kind of dialogue. The movie reveals its story as the characters discover more about their own – since it becomes clear that no one in this tale knows the whole truth of what is going on.
Because of the wariness others have felt about revealing too much of the plot, I was almost surprised by the lack of twist. It does not so much set your expectations up and then drop kick you to somewhere else, but leads you towards an idea which ultimately serves the story about the relationship that parents have with their children, about the tension between the fierce instinct to protect them and letting them free with all the attendant risks that doing so carries – both to children and to the parents.
The final scene does have a tiny sting in the tale – but blink and you will miss it, because in the end the whole is more important that the parts – although the parts are very engaging along the way. A very strong cast which also includes Jaeden Lieberher as the boy, Sam Shepard and the currently ubiquitous Adam Driver. Recommended.