Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” may be fresh in everyone’s mind this summer, but the film — which premiered at Cannes almost a year before its eventual release — is old news for its eager writer-director, who’s already at work on his fourth feature.
And if you thought the Southern-fried coming-of-age tale found the maker of “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter” embracing a slightly brighter shade of indie, you’ll note that his flirtation with the mainstream has become a commitment: backed by Warner Bros., the supernatural adventure “Midnight Special” will be his first studio production.
Nichols himself describes the project as a “sci-fi chase film,” and names John Carpenter as a major influence on the script — reinforcing the notion, established in “Mud,” of Nichols as a kind of modern American classicist. The plot, still vaguely defined at this point, concerns a family man who goes on the run with his eight-year-old son when it becomes apparent the boy has superpowers.
The fantasy element may be unfamiliar, but otherwise, this is all sounding consistent with Nichols’ previous work — right down to the casting of Michael Shannon in the lead. The Oscar-nominated character actor has starred in all three of Nichols’ films to date, and played the lead in two, so the director isn’t letting go of this particular lucky charm just yet.
As in “Mud,” meanwhile, Nichols is bringing in some extra star ammunition. Joel Edgerton was confirmed recently to co-star, while news landed yesterday that Kirsten Dunst is joining the cast to play an unspecified role. Nichols has said that the film is driven by its father-son dynamic, but it’d be nice to see a well-rounded part for Dunst in it — and not only because “Mud” took some critical stick (reasonably so, I think) for giving short shrift to its female characters, particularly Reese Witherspoon’s girlfriend figure. Jessica Chastain was given significantly more to work with in “Take Shelter,” so we know the director can do right by a gifted actress.
Does this casting news get you excited? And are you happy to see Nichols taking the studio path?