Jeff Nichols takes us on another fascinating journey that twists its way to a surprising climax. Martin Carr takes a look at Midnight Special.
I watched Mud a while ago. Many people held it responsible in part for the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey. A man defined by mediocre choices forever destined to be that guy who took his shirt off in every movie. Jeff Nichols, writer and director of Midnight Special, saw something different, something others failed to see, or maybe chose to ignore. McConaughey could act if he allowed himself the room. From Magic Mike through Mud and then Dallas Buyers Club his resurrection continued until we hit Interstellar. That as much as anything is why Jeff Nichols was given eighteen million and change for Midnight Special. And more interestingly why it grossed less than half that figure domestically.
Now we all know that big box office is no guarantee of quality. There have been too many examples lately where slick marketing fooled a hopeful fan base into parting with their cash. But more often than not the films which deserve more marketing and studio support are nowhere near tent pole status; Midnight Special was one of those.
Brandishing an eclectic cast of respected character actors who include Michael Shannon, Joel Egerton and Adam Driver amongst its ranks, Midnight Special remains at heart a father-son movie. Strip away the kidnapping road movie element, look beyond the understated visual effects which augment rather than overwhelm and we are in familiar Nichols territory.
Jaeden Lieberher’s Alton Meyer and Matthew McConaughey’s Mud are defined by their isolation from others. One might be a prepubescent savant while his counterpart is wanted by the authorities, but comparisons can be drawn with minimal effort. Preoccupations concerning the outsider versus society, individual projections of need and judgement being laid upon both characters and society’s need to categorise remain prevalent. Nichols clearly has a bee in his bonnet about these issues and uses his chosen platform effectively.
That being said Midnight Special is not without flaws and an underuse of talent is amongst them. Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver feel superfluous and peripheral, which to a certain extent they are, but at least give them something to do. Things also seem quite slow, even though there are ample action sequences and visual set pieces which serve the story. But those issues aside Midnight Special remains a clear step forward for an interesting director, which addresses theological and sociological questions that some might not consider entertaining. Maybe that’s the problem, people don’t like to come to the cinema and think for themselves. What a shame.