Stephen Baldwin, K Callan, Mary Thornton, Dominic Scott Kay
It's a shame really.
Stephen Baldwin, yes THAT Stephen Baldwin, finally gives a career performance and is ultimately betrayed by the film's poorly constructed storyline and greeting card-worthy final chapter.
Who'd have ever thought I'd be saying that Stephen Baldwin was the highlight of a film?
Wow, it's a Christmas miracle.
As directed by Dallas Jenkins, based upon his short film of the same name (which, in turn, is based upon his father Jerry's short story) "Midnight Clear" is an interesting film, somewhat in the style of "Magnolia" or "Crash," in which the lives of several people become intertwined as Christmas draws near.
Baldwin, whose previous cinematic life prior to becoming a born-again Christian consisted of sleazy erotic thrillers, bad comedies and b-grade action flicks, is surprisingly effective as Lefty, a down-and-out alcoholic whose ongoing troubles have cost him his wife, his child, his home and his job. Baldwin keeps Lefty just enough on the edge that one can never be quite sure whether he's going to explode or implode in desperation.
On the other side of town, Mary (Mary Thornton) and her son Jacob (Dominic Scott Kay) prepare for Christmas without their husband/father after a car accident the last Christmas Eve left him brain damaged and in a care facility. Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis) was in the accident with him and carries obvious guilt, and can't find peace as he takes the church's youth group out caroling. Mary's car breaks down on the way to a family Christmas Eve dinner, where she encounters Kirk (Kirk B.R. Woller) at a convenience store.
Finally, there is Eva (K Callan), a lonely older woman who at first seems to be experiencing early signs of dementia. Time quickly reveals Eva's suicidal plans, dealt with in a certain darkly comic way by Jenkins as her plans are repeatedly interrupted by Meals on Wheels, the youth group carolers and, yes, a final unexpected guest.
While "Midnight Clear" often feels like it's constructed along the lines of "Magnolia" or "Crash," the film more bears a resemblance to Steve Martin's "Mixed Nuts," though it certainly lacks that film's more overtly comic moments.
"Midnight Clear," on the other hand, has extended periods where it seems to plod along drowning in its own holiday weariness as if we, the audience, are experiencing as tragically as the characters. While the film largely avoids overt histrionics, Jenkins so calmly splices together the various storylines that by the time the characters finally start connecting there's little emotional connection to any of the characters with the possible exception of Eva, with whom we are genuinely sympathetic, and Lefty, for whom it is possible to completely sympathize or trust the inevitable change of heart.
Baldwin and Callan offer strong performances, while relative newcomer Thornton shows promise as the grieving wife and mother. Jarvis is a tad weak as the guilt-stricken best friend who emerged from the tragic car accident relatively unscathed, while both Kay and Woller have relatively one-note roles that offer little chance for either actor to truly shine.
"Midnight Clear" is obviously a Christian film, though this doesn't become blatantly obvious until the film's final 30 minutes or so. Kudos to Wes Halula for a screenplay that blends in the film's Christian foundation without becoming overly preachy, and the film should have a strong life on DVD when it's released by LionsGate in December 2007.
I must admit that while I can't really offer the film a solid recommendation, it is nearly worth seeing solely for the opportunity to see Baldwin in an understated, controlled and unexpectedly layered performance. While it's ending lacks authenticity and feels uncomfortably forced, the film's underlying principle that one act of kindness can make a difference may very well make "Midnight Clear" a film you'll want to catch at least once over the holiday season.
"Midnight Clear" is an Official Selection at the 2007 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic