“The Midnight Sky” stars George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, and Demián Bichir. Released in theaters on December 11, 2020, followed by a Netflix release on December 23, 2020, the film is about a scientist who attempts to make contact with the astronauts in space.
The film is directed by George Clooney, who also directed films such as “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, “Leatherheads”, “The Ides of March”, and “Suburbicon”. It is based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. It’s almost time for Christmas, so let’s watch something that’s a bit more post-apocalyptic. That should put us in the holiday mood…said no one ever. This film once again sees George Clooney pulling triple duty both on and off screen. In addition to acting, he also produces and directs the sci-fi feature that’s more dramatic than action-packed. When it comes to directing, Clooney has its share of hits and misses so far in his career. He delivered a couple of award-worthy masterpieces like “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March”, but he also delivered a couple of recent misfires in the process, including 2017’s “Suburbicon”. I haven’t actually seen that film myself, but from what I heard, it’s probably for the best. In fact, I haven’t seen all of Clooney’s directorial efforts up until now, so consider this review as my first exposure to his filmmaking vision. With that in mind, let’s see if this science fiction drama is worthy of Clooney’s directing talents.
The story follows Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney), an ambitious, yet lonely, scientist who stayed in his Arctic base after a cataclysmic event affected Earth. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Augustine struggles to make contact with the astronauts in space and warn them about the situation. He found out that the remaining space craft, Æther, is still active and the astronauts inside the craft are planning on returning to Earth to report their discovery of a habitable moon right by Jupiter. Unfortunately, the Æther crew is unaware of Earth’s current state and Augustine was unable to communicate with them due to his base’s weak antenna. With the assistance of another survivor, a young mute girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall), Augustine ventures through the decimated Arctic wasteland to search for another base that has a stronger signal. As I previously stated, this film relies heavily on the dramatic side of the post-apocalyptic scenario rather than the action-heavy side, so expecting to see George Clooney fight off mutants or zombies during this time period is like expecting to get a Playstation 5 for Christmas. It’s not going to happen. While I don’t mind watching a science fiction film that goes “boom” or “pew pew” every few minutes (as long as it’s good), it doesn’t hurt to have a post-apocalyptic film that puts an emphasis on the character’s survival against Mother Nature instead of survival against monsters…if it’s done well, of course. Admittedly, “The Midnight Sky” definitely had some parts that were well-intentioned, such as its themes and the ending, but everything else wasn’t exactly on par with what it’s going for, resulting in it being a middling directorial effort from the famous actor. One of the things that happened to carry the film out of the asteroid field was the cast, most notably George Clooney who once again graced the screen with his eye-catching performance as Augustine. As a director, he gave himself an opportunity to fully envision the internal struggle of loneliness within his character, and he was able to deliver that opportunity with ease. Unfortunately, everything else besides that had him struggling to maintain the consistency of the narrative’s dramatic depth, especially the supporting characters, which I will get to later. The rest of the cast also delivered some suitable performances, including Felicity Jones as Sully, one of the members of the Æther space crew, and newcomer Caoilinn Springall as Iris. These two characters do happen to have important roles in the film in terms of its messages, and without major spoilers, the way they were handled was actually quite endearing, especially towards the end. Another major highlight of the film was its visual effects, which looked absolutely marvelous in my eyes. They worked extremely well in bringing some of the most gorgeous sceneries to life on screen, such as the Arctic wasteland and even space itself. This is one of those moments where the visuals help drive the story forward, whether the latter is good or not. I honestly won’t be surprised if this film gets nominated for an Oscar because of its awe-inspiring visual effects. I also thought the music from Alexandre Desplat was pretty good. Known for composing music for films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Shape of Water”, Desplat was able to find the right type of music to fit its intended tone, which is dramatic and, at some points, grim. It’s not the best score I’ve heard from the composer, but I appreciate his effort regardless. As for its flaws, I did feel that again, the story fell pretty short at what it’s attempting to be when it comes to its thought-provoking and emotional core as well as Clooney’s direction. Even though I liked the ending, the entire narrative didn’t cover all of the basics that were needed to make this type of reward 100 percent satisfying, including the characters. Some of them have enough personalities to warrant my interest, especially Augustine, but it felt like they left out plenty of important stuff to have them feel more “three-dimensional”. Even the astronauts themselves, save for Sully, were pretty average despite some noble efforts from the supporting cast. I think if they put more focus on developing these characters a bit more, it would’ve made the film’s dramatic scenes just as effective as its visual presentation, but that’s just me.
Overall, despite its irresistible sense of beauty, “The Midnight Sky” isn’t as out-of-this-world as it could’ve been. Its talented cast, its respectable themes, and its visuals are enough to make this slow-burning sci-fi drama watchable, but its execution on the characters and Clooney’s underwhelming direction prevented it from reaching for the stars. This is another film that has some pretty interesting ideas for its concept, but wasn’t able to fully expand on them in order to make its story more invigorating and thoughtful. If you’re still interested in seeing the film, it’s definitely worth watching for Clooney’s performance and its visual flair alone.