Tag Archives: Nichols

Midnight Special

28 Apr
We're pretty sure this kid has the power to kill a yak from 200 yards away ... with mind bullets

Jeff Nichols, the budding auteur from Arkansas behind Take Shelter and Mud, gets a tad heavy-footed in his latest Midnight Special, a further contemplation on the Rapture, sanity, and the supernatural. Like his prior efforts, Nichols employs a fly-on-the-wall POV that offers an intimate look into the lives of his protagonists. In Shelter and Mud that technique allowed viewers inside the complex internal struggle of his characters, but in the plot-driven Midnight Special, the conflict is nearly all external. Although Nichols’ latest is more ambitious than his previous efforts, he very nearly hits the mark.

The film begins in a boarded-up hotel room. Inside, there are two armed men and a boy who sits under a blanket reading a comic book with a flashlight. The men are edgy — this is clearly some sort of last stand event, or is it? Without resistance they flee the room and climb into a classic muscle car in the lot and take off under cover of the night; the man behind the wheel even dons night-vision goggles so he can drive without headlights. As the viewers soon learn, these men have a higher calling: trying to save mankind. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world hasn’t gotten the memo.

In small, teasing strokes, including news clips and an immersion into a doomsday cult, Nichols slowly reveals the bigger picture. Roy Tomlin (played by Nichols’ onscreen alter-ego Michael Shannon) and his able driver, Lucas (Joel Edgerton) have abducted an 8-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent) from the aforementioned cult. The authorities are after the two men for kidnapping the boy, and the cult, led by the venerable Sam Shepard, sporting a too small sports coat and a bad Flowbee cut, has dispatched a goon squad as well. Alton happens to be Roy’s biological progeny, but Shepard’s cult leader is the child’s legal guardian. Their differences aren’t so much about Alton’s theological upbringing so much as the kid has certainly super-human talents, one of which is the ability to shoot beams of light out of his eye. As a result, the Feds (led by Adam Driver’s nerdy greenhorn) want him too. Alton’s clearly a gifted kid, but is he even human? Continue reading


26 Apr

‘Mud’: Pulpy crime noir, love story and coming of age, all found along a river

The titular substance usually connotes filth, squalor and entrapment like quicksand. About the only positive spin I can think of are mud baths in a health spa. But I digress. Mud acts as an effective tapestry in Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to his doomsday preparer saga, “Take Shelter.” It’s the name of the arcane protagonist (played with vigor and game by Matthew McConaughey, whose trademark southern drawl is aptly perfect for the Arkansas setting), a metaphor for the sticky situation he’s in and can’t get unstuck from, and it’s everywhere in the Arkansas Delta where many of the characters live in ramshackle houseboats and eke out a living pulling fish, pearls and salvage from the silt-lined bed of the mighty Mississippi.

Like the olio of treasures found at the river’s bottom, “Mud” is a lot of diverse things compressed into one. It’s a southern gothic, a pulpy crime noir, an account of a fading way of life, a contemplation on love and most of all a coming of age tale that evokes shades of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. As Ellis and Neckbone, the proverbial Twain tandem, Tye Sheridan – one of Brad Pitt’s lads in “The Tree of Life” – and newcomer Jacob Lofland imbue the film with a sweet innocence and impish teen know-how.

Neckbone lives with his uncle (Michael Shannon, who starred in “Take Shelter”) and never knew his parents. Ellis lives in a dingy but cozy floating shack, and his parents are on the verge of splitting. The two find solace in each other and their mini adventures. Their latest involved the rumor of a boat lodged high up in a tree on an island after a recent flood. The rumor turns out to be true, and the boat happens to be where they meet Mud, scraggly, starving, feral and needing their help to get food. He can’t set foot in the mainland, because he’s a wanted man.  Continue reading