Review: Midnight Special – Beautiful, but drawn-out and dull

IN THE OVER-INFORMED society that we find ourselves in, I was presented with a rare opportunity in which I could go into a nationwide film release with very little knowledge and thus ensure a completely blank and unbiased viewing experience. There were only a few details I knew beforehand, such as it features a boy with a strange gift or powers and a father, and yet after viewing the film I know roughly about the same. Or rather I knew everything that was important and was actually focused on in the film. In a way, this film is kind of amazing, that you could have a long, drawn-out script and yet still have so little going on.

Midnight Special is a story about a weird church cult, a government agent, a father teaming up with a state trooper and a boy with mutant powers, how can you even have those elements and create a film as dull and empty as this one? Michael Shannon plays the father taking his son away from this cult that he was a member of. His son, Alton, has a bizarre gift with which he can hear signals, decode military communication, destroy satellites and make people feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Alton has said that he needs to be at an exact location in a few days, so his father risks everything to take him there, but not without being chased by the cult and the government.

I truly believe that this must have started out as a short film, because so much that happens is incredibly unnecessary and quickly forgotten. The cult? They cause trouble for the father in one scene but almost immediately are dropped from the film about three minutes later. The Government/military? They slow them down and provide exposition on Alton’s powers, all of which remains unclear by the end of the film. An editor could cut this down to 40-60 minutes and absolutely nothing would have been lost.

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I wanted to love this film, the acting is on point, Michael Shannon is outstanding, and Kirsten Durst and Adam Driver give top notch performances; even child actor Jaeden Lieberher does well. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction is great, there’s a heavy use of CGI at the end that looks amazing. In fact, everything but the script is out-right fantastic, yet nearly two hours of beautiful shots and great acting doesn’t cut it when your story is a bore.

The script doesn’t feel like it was phoned in, but felt like it had to expand the running time. Sub-plots don’t pay off; the only time they did was an interesting interaction between Adam Driver and Jaeden Lieberher. It’s also strange that, despite spending so much time on them, there wasn’t much bonding between the father and son. There were moments, sure, but they felt like they existed to move the plot forward. In a movie filled mostly with people sitting and talking, I still don’t know much about them.

Unfortunately I can’t go into detail about why it doesn’t work without spoiling the film, but suffice to say I found the big pay-off to be rather disappointing. There’s also a condition to the boy’s power that they spend the majority of the film going around only to discover that it was completely wrong, so that added nothing. The film builds up a character who initially adds a spanner to the works, only for them to disappear shortly thereafter. The police interview a load of members of the cult and they discuss the boy’s power, but this only serves to add exposition.

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It’s a movie where a lot of nothing takes place, we go from an interesting set-up or event to 20 minutes of nothing, editing this film down to a short would create a fantastic piece of work. As a feature length, however, it doesn’t work. A lot of information is missing; there could have been more bonding between the father and child that didn’t serve as exposition, and so much could have been cut and replaced with a sharper focus on characters.

The biggest problem comes when the most interesting moments of the film exist to add exposition and are then dropped soon after. Why couldn’t we have the government use him as a weapon? Why couldn’t they just talk about their lives and not about how super important the boy is? The film needs more substance and not just beautiful shots followed by aimless conversation.

Everything but the script holds up, and unfortunately that’s one of the most vital elements in a film. I will however, give credit for a clever wink to Superman.

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