Michael Shannon has unfairly gotten a reputation as the go-to guy for intense unstable and often violent characters, but he has far greater range than that as his filmography and theatre credits demonstrate. In Midnight Special he plays Roy, a loving and protective father who is on the run with his young son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), having escaped from a cult where Alton was seen as a prophet due to his supernatural powers.
Roy and his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are racing to get Alton to an unspecified location by a certain time where Alton believes that he will be able to communicate with other beings and perhaps find out why he possesses his powers. On the way they collect Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) who was excommunicated and hasn’t seen her son for years. NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) has interviewed members of the cult who attest to Alton’s abilities and believing Alton to be a potential threat to national security, the FBI pursue Roy with the aim of separating him from his son and imprisoning Alton.
Midnight Special is both a sci-fi thriller and a meditation on what it means to be a parent. When Alton tells Roy that he needn’t worry about him, Roy’s response is ‘I like worrying about you’, a simple answer that sums up parenthood beautifully. Shannon’s performance is brilliant and the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent (the more I see of Adam Driver the more I like him). Nichols’ script is restrained and intelligent. A hallmark of his filmmaking is that he trusts the viewer to fill in the blanks which makes a welcome change from the usual Hollywood spoon-feeding.
Shannon has appeared in all four of writer-director Nichols’ films: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, and now Midnight Special. They are great collaborators and all four films are worth seeing, so head to Midnight Special in the cinema now and then if you haven’t seen Take Shelter rent it. Shannon won armloads of awards for his performance as a man haunted by visions of the apocalypse, and again he was a loving husband and father. See? He doesn’t just play cold-hearted crazy villains!