Midnight Special Review
By David Kempler
Good, But Not Special
Going into Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special" I was primed for his third venture with Michael Shannon as his lead actor. After all, their first two shared attempts yielded truly outstanding dramas in "Shotgun Stories" and "Take Shelter". This one has all of the elements of its two predecessors, yet it falls short. The "why" is a little difficult to understand. It's a case of the whole not living up to its components. The beginning is instant acceleration. The end, while well-intended, is more fizzle than sizzle.
Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and Roy's friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), are hiding out in a very dark motel room. Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a young boy with them who we learn is the biological son of Roy. For some reason, Alton is wearing dark goggles, while reading a comic book. We eventually find out why.
One thing revealed quickly via radio and television news reports is that an eight-year-old boy has been kidnapped by two men, so now we know that we have been watching the kidnappers and the young boy, but we don't know why they are doing it. When the kidnappers hear the reports they quickly gather up their belongings and peel out in an old, beat up car that can move fast.
Two groups are definitely trying to locate and capture the kidnappers. One is the federal government, which makes perfect sense. The other group consists of two men who have been dispatched from "The Ranch", which is a nickname for what appears to be a cult along the lines of the group that once occupied Waco, Texas. The leader of the cult is Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). He and the rest of the congregation believe that Alton has the power and will eventually bring forth Judgment Day.
The FBI is leading the investigation until agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) of the NSA ends up as point man for the operation. Government forces don't believe that Alton is what the cult believes. All they know is that Alton has to decode government information.
The bulk of the action involves trying to either protect Alton or save him from the kidnappers. Nichols reveals everything at a slow but appropriate pace until everything becomes clear at the end. The problem is that the last half hour, even though it clears up all the unanswered questions, somehow feels like letting the air out of a balloon. Instead of marveling at what it all means, for some reason it's a letdown. "Midnight Special" is still worth a watch, but it's just not special.