Screened Out – Midnight Special

By : Stephen Miller
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Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard, Adam Driver

“Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me” ~ traditional American folk song.

This movie is, at its heart, about a parent’s love: what a father will do to protect his son, even if the boy may not be entirely his in the first place.

I know this goes against everything I’ve said before in reviews, but sometimes we love a bit of confusion, mystery, and vagueness in our films. It’s actually entertaining! I think it’s okay as long as the flick clears most of it up by the end. Not all of it; we still want to ponder as we leave the theater.


At its core, Midnight Special is about a father’s love and faith in his young son.

Midnight Special gives us just enough. It might leave one or two big questions hanging out there. It might also have a couple plot tangents that don’t completely wrap themselves up. But, for the most part, the good stuff is here, married with some subtle and heartbreaking performances.

A divorced father (a luminous Shannon) has kidnapped his eight-year-old son (Lieberher) from a commune, run by calm, enigmatic Shepard. Both men believe the boy is special – gifted with extraordinary physical talents and maybe even psychic abilities.

The boy definitely can persuade others. He spent a few moments with his dad’s estranged friend. In an instant, that friend (Edgerton) becomes just as committed to rescuing the boy – from the commune and the Feds. It’s a dangerous chase across some of our Southern States.

To tell you more would be to spoil the discovery, as well as all the cool questions you’ll have after the film.

It’s important to note this is from writer/director Jeff Nichols. If you haven’t experienced his other written and directed films – Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud – you really should. These films aren’t perfect, but they’re still excellent. Nichols has a real gift for creating honest intrigue.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols brings heartfelt performances out of all his characters.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols brings heartfelt performances out of all his characters.

Nichols worked with Shannon twice before. Somehow, the writer/director gets under Shannon’s craggy, severe face to show a deep, desperate, and interesting man each and every time. (Shannon is often cast as villains; Nichols shows the man has so much more.)

As Alton, Lieberher is as bland and creepy as is necessary – all these “gifted boy” roles are played the same way. As the best friend, Edgerton infuses his scenes with a sense of duty and faith that will break hearts. Driver is a scientist for the Feds – and an expert on Alton. In some ways, Driver is merely comic relief, but he’s quiet, gentle comedy – Nichols never lets him tilt away from the mystery and beauty of the main story.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Sure, not enough light is shone on the cult, or how Shannon became involved. There are also a couple smaller plot holes at the end – I won’t spoil them, though!

Because there’s also the center: Shannon as the trapped but determined father, trying to listen to his strange son, desperate to give the odd boy the deliverance he needs. The powerful emotional core of a father’s love makes the mysterious Midnight Special magical, and well worth the wonder it inspires.


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