Writer/Director Jeff Nichols has, within three films, already made a major impact on modern cinema. His breakthrough was his second feature film, Take Shelter, a drama centering on a man, played in a career best performance by Michael Shannon, plagued with visions of an impending doomsday. He followed this up with the Southern fairy tale, Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role. Now, Nichols' intends to deliver his love letter to Steven Spielberg and science fiction with Midnight Special.
Midnight Special, like every one of Jeff Nichols' past films stars Michael Shannon as a father on the run from the law with his son, played by Jaeden Lieberher, best known for his work in St. Vincent. The hook becomes that the son possess some kind of special power (think Akira, or the Rainmaker in Looper). On his working relationship with Shannon, Nichols has said:
He makes my writing better and makes me a better director. Especially in a film like this that removes so much dialogue and removes so much information in the traditional sense of exposition. He fills all that in just with looks on his face. I can watch Mike Shannon literally do nothing, sit on a park bench and pick at his fingernails, and I would be intrigued by it, and I think a lot of people could, too. He is able to carry the weight of a character through very quiet moments better than anybody else I know. - The Hollywood Reporter
Also starring is Adam Driver as what appears to be a government scientist who is obsessed with getting the son to research on and understand exactly what he is. This will be Driver's first major role since playing Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It will be interesting to see if his name on the project brings in some of the Star Wars fans.
Nichols has been tight-lipped about the film itself. Stressing the tonality of mystery is what inspired him, Nichols has pointed out Starman, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as what gave him much of the story ideas:
I had the idea of two guys driving a car only at night through back roads of the American South. There also was this desire to make a film like the ones I loved growing up, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Starman and E.T. I always work on two tracks, so on the one hand I’ve got genre and plot and on the other, I’ve got these thematic connections, these personal connections. My son was one when I started writing, so Midnight Special became about this newfound position of having this little person that was so fragile and could so affect the trajectory of my life, and I had no control over it. I think part of the trick of being a parent is giving up all of this control to this new being. - The Hollywood Reporter
It's refreshing to see a director take such a deep emotional feeling and plug it into a science fiction concept. It's one of the reasons I have such a major love for the genre; when in the right hands directors can use the medium to create a deep thought provoking story, in this case on parenthood.
Expecting Nichols to stick with his tendency for a slow burn, Midnight Special won't be for every one. Hopefully, this will not result in another case of The Witch, but Nichols has proven time and time again that in his quiet moments, he fills in the time with meaningful silence. Midnight Special seems like it will be a landmark film in the early career of Nichols, and a break-out for the early Spring season.
Midnight Special is out in limited release on Friday, March 18th.