The new film by Jeff Nichols is his best one to date. I caught it at the Silverspot today in Chapel Hill, having viewed it the first time at the Regal in Cary. Both theaters have enormous screens that are so effective in a science fiction thriller. With that said, I'll try not to say one word about the plot or the ending.
Midnight Special draws the viewer in even before the first scene appears. We hear an Amber Alert on the radio and that sets the stage for the next 90 minutes of intensity.
Roy, played by Michael Shannon in his fourth Nichols film, is on a mission. But is he an abductor or a rescuer? It's not clear at first, and the intricate plot keeps viewers guessing, just as Nichols would like. Roy looks throughout the film like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. As one of the most expressive actors in films today, he can capture a feeling with just a sideways turn of the head or a furrowed brow. He is magnificent in this film.
Joel Egerton (who will also star in the next Nichols film due out next year), is perfect as Roy's accomplice, Lucas. The interplay between the two characters never abates during the film and much of their dialog consists of dramatic one-liners: "it's national," "he's dying," "he's more important." Such simple words, laden with meaning and foreboding.
A dark night, a lonely road, a gas station, a phone booth. Darkness lays over the movie like another character. It's errie, haunting, and effective. One of my favorite night scenes shows a hill, over which the lights of a bus appear. Breathtaking and mysterious.
With Adam Stone's sensitive cinematography, simple things become powerful: an empty swing set, the soft glow of a lamp, an early morning sky. One of the most beautiful scenes in the film shows a child playing in the living room. It's as though the camera is eavesdropping while the shot is captured through the framework of the child's parents holding hands.
Kirstin Dunst plays Roy's wife and is believeable sympathetic in the role of a mother. Her anguish at the film's end brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience and her performance has all the depth of a much older actress.
Adam Driver is appealing in his role as an FBI agent who easily inserts himself into the action and takes command in several scenes.
Sam Shepherd with his steady gaze and razor sharp eyes, is appropriately cast as the leader of a cult who can speak volumes with just a sideways glance.
The music by David Wingo is another strong character in the film. Whether foreshadowing or celebrating, the music is stunning, right up to the end song, Midnight Special, which is sung by Ben Nichols, Jeff's brother. I loved the gritty, lonesome quality of it.