The physical landscape of the U.S. doesn’t change during Christmas, except for the lights strewn across house roofs and down walls, and the traditional wreaths. Emotionally, populations change to a great extent. There is the joy or dread of those expecting big family gatherings and the below-the-ground depression of others who are alone during the holidays. Case in point in “Midnight Clear”, where dark loneliness in a neighborhood leads to cautious hope.
Now I expect disbelief over the idea that Stephen Baldwin could be better than the mediocrity he has exposed himself to over the years. But sometimes, an actor is given a few moments that define a possible future for him. Baldwin has the look and talent for indie film. Not the direct-to-video crap he’s involved himself in, but works that get him out in the real filmed world, drama that keeps him as he is here. As Lefty, he possesses cloudy eyes and a disheveled manner that he plays perfectly. What possibly turned him into this? At the beginning, he’s in his car, alone, during Christmas, and with a gun pressed to his chin. Depressed. Just as it is for thousands during Christmas. Meanwhile, Eva (K Callan), an older woman, prepares herself a boiled pill cocktail, presumably for the same reason that Lefty has that gun. Christmas isn’t always kind.
Gradually, the two stories converge. Lefty stops into a gas station to try to fill his car’s tank which miraculously keeps the engine going, despite the needle getting cozy with the “E” the entire time. Eva fields a caroling group, whose leader presents her with a gift and an offer to drive her to church services. The leader, dressed in an outfit only Santa would use on vacation, is off-putting. He speaks not as a human, but just toward obligation of what he has to do in making the rounds. When Lefty and Eva come together, by way of a door latch left hanging, it’s a moment of two talented actors. K Callan’s been around since 1970 and possesses skills that older actors could only wish they had. Both actors connect. Both of them understand their characters. And both of them contribute to “Midnight Clear” in such a way that puts its message across blindingly clear: There is hope somewhere, somehow, every day. No matter the holiday, no matter the year, it happens somewhere. Even if it’s only brief, it’s there. Dallas Jenkins, who previously directed the smart satire “Cliché”, innately understands this story, and through him, as well as the rundown cinematography and editing, not only is “Midnight Clear” affecting, but it shows that Stephen Baldwin has a chance in independent film. Get away from the direct-to-video garbage, man! That’s for Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and others who literally cannot survive any other way. There’s bound to be some other filmmakers who could want him. And if they see “Midnight Clear”, they’re bound to think that way.