feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker who shows great craftsmanship in creating worlds for his characters, to create a particular personality that would enhance the characteristics and journeys that his figures would endure. This was certainly the case with Mud and Shotgun Stories, films that managed to envelop the audience into the setting that surrounds its protagonists, almost as if we ourselves are present with them, standing on the same ground as they are.
His films also tend to be methodical in their exposition, utilising as much subtlety and kinetic elements to push its story forward and unwrap the layers of his characters. We learn about these characters by the decisions and actions that they do, and when they get the opportunity to use dialogue, it is used in a manner that is naturalistic rather than contrived and desperate. This method allows our concerns to be focused strongly on the characters themselves rather than spend time in attempting to unravel the plot.
At its core, Midnight Special still remains a Nichols film. It amplifies its air of mystery and unconcern for plotting, resembling much of the aura that permeated his filmography. However, in his previous films, such a direction would defy intense criticism due to his ability to blossom the world within the film, frequently set in America’s south, but here in Midnight Special, such a trait feels lost in his filmmaking. Despite much of the performances and storytelling still managing to retain the aspects of a Nichols film, that one critical factor that failed in its execution or omitted in his storytelling turns out to be the foundation of his filmography’s appeal.
As much as I admire the internally driven performances by its cast, notably Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst as the parents of Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), Nichols’ inability to construct an engaging world has actually led the film to dampen much of the emotional resonance of its story. Themes of family, separation, and sacrifice should be penetrating factors that would truly let the film be the unforgettable piece of art that it strives to be. The lacking of a strong personality, held only by nostalgic elements - predominantly the science fiction works of early Spielberg - has proven Midnight Special to be an underwhelming feature that certainly does not deserve to be.