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William Holden in Picnic

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Midnight Special Coda

Here's Murtada with a spoilery deconstruction of one scene in Midnight Special

The coda after the ending of Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is between two characters that are not the family at the center of this sci fi story. The interaction between Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver made me realize why the movie left me emotionally cold. I cared more about these peripheral characters than the main characters, or the story. At least for a minute or two...

The story is ostensibly about a kid (Jaeden Lieberher) with supernatural powers, his parents (Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst), a friend of the dad (Joel Edgerton) on a cross country journey, fleeing from all the nefarious people trying to get their hands on this “gifted” kid. Driver is one of those villains, a NSA employee who might be the only person who understands what’s going on.

After the story basically ends Edgerton is surprised by Driver, appearing to interrogate him about the truth behind what has unfolded. It’s a smart recall to their only previous encounter, when Driver asks to be hit by Edgerton to fool the other government agents. They size each other up, not knowing how to react. The ball is Driver’s corner since he has the authority. Are they going to acknowledge each other? Is that punch finally coming Driver’s way? The stakes are smaller than the world weary mystery at the center of the movie, yet relatable because of that. It was something to cling on to in a movie that offered thin characterizations and a lot of empty tension that led nowhere.

Was it the actors? Yes Driver and Edgerton are both compelling. It was more the writing though. Shannon was given only one thing to play throughout: concern. There’s only so much a brilliant actor can do when asked to play one note for two hours. Edgerton only fared better because he had that scene, where he gets to play a few more notes, show a bit of humour and escape the dour seriousness of the rest of the movie. Driver had a bit more to play with, you never know what his motives are at any point which makes him interesting. Maybe it was the actor in his case; he’s certainly more compelling than any image or idea in this film.

And if you'd allow me an aside. Dunst fares the worst, and looks the worst. We understand trying to dim her light to make her look ordinary, but the heavy makeup and awful lighting were just too much. Why cast her if you really wanted someone who doesn’t look like her at all?

Midnight Special is not a very good movie, but there’s at least that one scene. Most critics loved this movie, has it worked for you?

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Reader Comments (7)

Truth be told, this was the first movie I walked out of in six or seven years. It's not that it's the worst movie ever, it's that for me it was so inert in every way I couldn't help but think there were so many other things I could be doing with my time and 30 minutes more of that movie seemed interminable.

Also it was a free screening so I didn't feel too bad.

I get why critics love the "Close Encounters" vibe, but I found nothing and no one to latch onto. Minutes seemed to stretch on like hours.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChris James

I believe I read this one goes to Cannes.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Chris & Murtada -- i am glad i'm not alone. I found it so aggravating. I assumed in the first 20 minutes that the movie would soon let us catch up. Many movies begin with mysterious circumstances in media res but at some point the audience gets in synch with the characters. that never happened here.

it felt like the outline of a movie more than a movie. and thus interminable because it was impossible to care and like it was being made up as it went along since no information was solid enough to attach to meaning.

hated it.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm hoping that picture right underneath the "SPOILER WARNING" header isn't, you know, also a spoiler.

April 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLucien

OMG yes on how Dunst looked. Poor Kirsten. She praised Nichols effusively on tv the other day. And he did this to her!!

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersummer


Perfectly summed up. I wanted to know more about everything happening - it was all just ideas and premise. I feel the FBI entanglements with the religious cult would be far more compelling.

April 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

Murtada and Nathaniel, thank you for articulating why this movie left me detached. I saw this with a group who seemed much more enthusiastic than me. I was fairly bored through the whole thing. I was hoping there would be a payoff, but the one I got was the most pedestrian possible. Sigh. Very disappointed in Nichols.

April 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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