Midnight Special starts with two men, Roy Tomlin and Lucas, who are getting ready to leave a motel during the night. As Lucas tears down the cardboard covering the windows, Roy pulls off a sheet covering a boy wearing blue goggles and orange ear muffs (not the fluffy kind; the noise cancelling kind).
“It’s time. You ready?”
The scene quickly sets up the mysterious tone using the fewest amount of words possible before the soundtrack kicks in, setting the mood as they drive through the night. The soundtrack excellently complements the film, and it’s one of the few soundtracks I would consider listening to on its own.
The cast does an excellent job and it really does show. Michael Shannon – the actor who plays Roy Tomlin – is genius at his portrayal of a desperate father fighting for his son, Alton’s, life. Roy loves him unconditionally and would die for him, and this definitely shows. Michael Shannon really held the movie together considering Roy’s interactions with the rest of the main cast was crucial throughout the entire movie.
The main focus of the movie is on Alton, who is portrayed by Jaeden Lieberher. Alton is a special and strangely mature boy, and according to director Jeff Nichols, Jaeden is mature for his age as well. Michael and Jaeden were the film’s duo and were able to build a respectful relationship after meeting each other for the first time, and it truly shows. Despite Michael’s genius in this film, Jaeden was the knot that tied it together. The respect for each other helped them both in fulfilling their roles, and in turn it produced a film about the journey of a father and his son.
Adam Driver makes an appearance in Midnight Special as the FBI investigator Agent Paul Sevier. His character has a clear role and purpose, and for the plot he was given, he does an excellent job.
The problem here is the plot. We are introduced to a religious cult located at what they call the Ranch, where Alton is the leader’s adopted son. Alton can pick up communication waves, including satellite transmissions, so he hears these numbers that the cult believes are a prediction for the end of times and are integrated into their worship. The cult deems him a prophetic source; they believe Alton to be their savior.
The plot’s focus starts with the biological father, Roy, having taken his son from the Ranch because Alton discovered a time and a location he needs to be at. Not long after the cult leader sent a couple men after them, the FBI shows up to lead the cult into buses for questioning. Agent Paul Sevier starts interviewing them and gathering information on the situation. Sevier talks to the cult leader and asks him how they were getting these FBI numbers. The cult leader either didn’t realize or lies about it (it’s hard to tell with him being a cult leader and all). It’s here that we realize that these numbers don’t have any significance since they’re numbers that are allegedly only useful for the FBI, even though Roy and Alton have a destination that we are led to believe derived from these same numbers.
Roy and Alton’s journey takes a front seat at this point and the plot shifts and seemingly falls apart. The FBI and the cult that we were introduced to are still there, but they are pushed to the side more than anything, and the cult especially appeared like it ended up being dropped altogether despite the two cultists showing up part way through that were sent to take the boy. The connections between Alton’s destination, the FBI, and the numbers are muddled at best.
Overall, the plot has potential but I feel it took a wrong turn. The plot’s issues are discussed further in my plot analysis. I separated it because the post will make more sense to those who have already seen the film, and there’s a lot to talk about.
My issues with the plot are why I’m talking about the journey, or the adventure, that this family goes through together, because that’s where Midnight Special excels. Roy, a loving father; Lucas, Roy’s old friend from school; Alton, the boy on a mission; and Sarah, Alton’s mother. The focus is on Alton, who’s dying and getting worse by the minute. Alton’s expressions make it believable, and Roy’s reactions produce a tight bond between the two. Finally, at their destination, Alton falls to his knees in the grass and the grass dies around him. This is the strongest moment in the film for me. They made it, but it’s only almost halfway through the movie.