Monday, 11 April 2016

REVIEW - MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (JEFF NICHOLS)


What's so special about that? The latest of cinema's chosen children is, naturally, just like all the others: a white, American male, every bit the cliche that Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special knows not whether to court or to keep clear of. Nichols is a terrific craftsman, and his grasp on style and tone is assured; how could it not be, for this white, American male aping so many films from so many other white, American, male filmmakers? That you've seen much of this before stifles the excitement, though the subdued intensity of Nichols' directing sustains one's interest. With careful character development and reliable performances from the cast, he also earns an emotional investment from his viewer, albeit one which dissipates once the grand design of Midnight Special is unveiled. The film never prompts you to expect more of it - its engaging race-against-the-clock narrative ensures otherwise - but one inevitably wishes it had expected more of itself, upon the delivery of a supposedly-audacious denouement that, capable visual effects aside, is equally laughable for its corny stupidity as it is for its utter lack of audacity - once again, you've seen this before. It's a formulaic film, and unwittingly narrow-minded, but past its faults it's also a highly satisfactory piece of work. Nichols is near the top of his game in constructing memorable sequences out of thin material, and displays his customary keen understanding of rural society in America's Deep South. And his twist on the classic sci-fi narrative is a smart one, largely eschewing exposition, that the film might provide some sense of surprise in spite of its conventionality; even still, it shows its hand much too soon, eliminating any suspense and discouraging alternative interpretations of its events. Alas, in the end, there's nothing so special about Midnight Special.