Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Midnight Special' Promises A Smart, Dark Sci-Fi Thriller


Our film critic Kenneth Turan says he wants to discuss a new movie. But he also says he is reluctant to say too much. Ken, what's the problem?

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Well, this is a film you want to discover. You don't want to give away too much about it. You know, I don't want to spoil the surprise and the kind of excitement.

INSKEEP: So you're saying that it's not just giving away the ending, it's really giving way the whole film here you don't want to do. And yet you want to discuss this. So what's it called?

TURAN: It's called "Midnight Special," and really the best way to talk about it is to talk about how it begins. The first thing is that you hear a TV broadcast. A boy has been kidnapped. They know who the suspect. Everyone is looking for him. And you see at once two things. Number one, that there's an enormous bond between them, so clearly this is not an ordinary kidnapping. And also, there's something very strange about the boy. You can just feel it. He's got headphones on, and he's got these great, big goggles on

INSKEEP: Why is he wearing goggles?

TURAN: Well, I don't really want to give that away because you find that out only gradually. But you know there's something about him that people shouldn't know who and what he is. And there's a clip where you hear in a gas station - he's kind of wandered outside - and a stranger approaches him and kind of wants to know what's happening with him.

INSKEEP: Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Are you OK? Why are you wearing those goggles?

MICHAEL SHANNON: (As Roy) Stop, stop. He's with me. He's my son.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yeah, well, you ought to watch your kid.

INSKEEP: OK, so someone is suspected of taking this kid away. There's something about him because of these goggles. What's going on here?

TURAN: Well, again, you only find out gradually what's happening. This film is very tense all the way through from beginning to end. It's partly a science-fiction movie. It's partly a chase movie. But the great thing about is that you really feel in the hands of a director who really knows what he's doing.

INSKEEP: Who's that director?

TURAN: That director is a man named Jeff Nichols, who's made two or three other films - "Take Shelter" and "Mud" are the key ones. But this is him really moving up to another level. This is him really taking command and taking control in a way really that will remind people I think of Steven Spielberg, even though with somewhat of a darker cast.

INSKEEP: I'm curious. You say that you feel like you're in the hands of a competent director. Does that mean that you feel the director's presence or that you actually got lost in this movie you were so absorbed by it?

TURAN: You feel that someone who's in control. It's like you're in a car where someone is driving really, really well at very high speeds.

INSKEEP: Is there something special to get a movie like this out of a major studio, Warner Bros?

TURAN: Well, you know, to me what's unusual about the situation is that Jeff Nichols has been allowed to get to this point gradually. Often today we have directors who make one little film at Sundance and then next you know they're doing a big Marvel movie. And they haven't been allowed to develop. And this guy is a little bit - Jeff Nichols - in the pattern of Christopher Nolan, who actually had three quite good small films before he moved onto the "Batman" films. So what's unusual is someone being allowed to really work on his craft and get better and better and better.

INSKEEP: I'm listening to you and thinking of baseball farm teams, where they try to bring up somebody from the major leagues but not move him too quick.

TURAN: Exactly. And this guy has not moved too quickly, and he's right where he should be right now.

INSKEEP: OK, the movie is called "Midnight Special." Our reviewer, who tried not to tell us too much is Kenneth Turan. Ken, thanks very much.

TURAN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.