Phil Haddad
Phil Haddad

Blog Posts

from Star Wars to startups:
my thoughts on movies, marketing, and emerging technology.

Movies You Haven't Seen - Midnight Special

Movies You Haven't Seen is my ongoing list of smaller or independent films that may have slipped under your radar. Check out the rest here.

Released: March 18, 2016

Current Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Tell me you're not intrigued!

Tell me you're not intrigued!

Midnight Special is one of those movies that sneaks up on you. At first you think it's a small sci-fi story with a gimmick in the form of a boy with special powers, but the film quickly sucks you into a narrative that explores themes of spirituality and family dynamics in a way you wouldn't expect. I first heard of this movie when I saw the poster somewhere and realized it was filmmaker Jeff Nichols' follow-up to his critically acclaimed (and McConnaisance-fueling) Mud. The bold, compelling visual immediately drew me in, and the movie delivered a story as interesting at the poster promised. Nichols keeps a tight, grounded feel (for the most part) to the film, which, combined with Michael Shannon's incredible performance, adds to the perfect environment for a great experience. 

Some of my favorite science fiction movies are the ones that ditch the grand, epic scale of Star Wars for limited special effects and pick one small but fantastical element to take an otherwise grounded story into the realm of science fiction. This usually happens in independent films due to budget restrictions, and the best filmmakers will take those boundaries and allow that to fuel their creativity (one of my favorite in this vein is Alex Garland's Ex Machina). Jeff Nichols is great at this and in Midnight Special he creates a setting and story that feel completely real. 

The movie begins with father and son Roy and Alton (Michael Shannon and Jaeden Lieberher) on the run, from who is not immediately clear.  The mysterious Lucas (Joel Edgerton) accompanies them, a man who has more experience with this kind of thing than Shannon's character. Between Alton's special 'gifts' and the government agents and cult fanatics interested in finding him, the story wastes no time in pulling you into an edge-of-your-seat adventure that will keep you hooked all the way through.

Although I'm sure it draws complaints from many viewers, Nichols is a master of giving you just enough information to keep you interested, but not so much that every question gets answered. This 'just enough' approach is even reflected in the cinematography. In an era where too many films like to spice things up with a handheld camera (a choice that often leaves me nauseous), Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone mostly favor  still, steady shots that maintain the grounded, observational feel of the movie.

This is  not  the Michael Shannon you are looking for

This is not the Michael Shannon you are looking for

Beyond the story, the other standout element of this film is Michael Shannon's performance as the dedicated father, Roy. Most of you will recognize Shannon as General Zod from Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, but his performance in that movie is a cookie cutter villain role any brooding actor could have pulled off. This is less to do with Shannon's abilities and more to do with the writing/directing of that film. In Midnight Special Shannon shines, delivering a performance that is full of conviction, bringing you into this father's dedication to his son and his belief in the boys special abilities. 

Midnight Special is a ripoff of 80's sci-fi in the best kind of way. It ditches scale and computer-generated effects for a story that, at its core, is about family and the things you do to protect the ones you love.

Watch it and let me know what you think! Also, if you've seen it I would love any recommendations for similar movies.

Other highlights:

  • The awesome, minimalistic piano pieces used in the soundtrack are perfect (see trailer)
  • Jaeden Lieberher (the kid) nails a role that could've easily been annoying
  • Adam Driver is always a great addition to a cast

Check out more Movies You Haven't Seen: