DECEMBER 11th, 2020
MOVIE: THE MIDNIGHT SKY
STARRING: GEORGE CLOONEY, FELICITY JONES, DAVID OYELOWO, TIFFANY BOONE, DEMIAN BICHIR, KYLE CHANDLER
DIRECTED BY: GEORGE CLOONEY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The Midnight Sky is a pot of science fiction stew. It’s a concoction of The Martian, Gravity, Ad Astra, and Passengers all mixed together, and because it reminds us of all of those other movies, it winds up tasting slightly unoriginal. That’s not to say that George Clooney’s recent directing effort isn’t engaging. It’s pretty to look at and filled with emotions. It has all the trappings of a successful awards season vehicle. It’s just not better than many of the other movies that arrived before it. The Midnight Sky involves parallel stories, about a man named Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) who has discovered a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) left behind at his mission control station on the arctic circle. He was supposed to be the last person left on the planet and now he must find a way to get her back to her family. Up in outer space is a five-person crew, hoping to make contact back home, after a long journey to find a more inhabitable planet. The goal is for both sides to make contact with one another, with Clooney drudging through the blistering cold to protect Iris, while the astronauts deal with their own outer space chaos. The missions are treacherous and daunting, the special effects are cool, and the score is gorgeous, but The Midnight Sky falls short of greatness with every step it takes.
Clooney takes another stab in the directors chair, his first since 2017’s strangely lacking Coen brother’s script Suburbicon, which might explain why The Midnight Sky feels like such a big swing. The proof of that massive effort is the reason why we see large scale sets and state of the art special effects, something that Clooney had not yet attempted in past directed films. The Midnight Sky is also a sign of a different kind of Clooney project, a family man, undoubtedly seeing himself in Mark L. Smith’s adaptation of the Lily Brooks-Dalton book. August is a brilliant man and the man that discovered a better planet, while the earth was starting to die. He is also dying of some form of cancer, so the clock is running out on his life, any chance of helping Iris, and it’s also running out on the entire human race.
The cast and crew up in space is a talented one, the commander is Tom Adewole (David Oyelowo), alongside him is his first mate and expecting girlfriend Sully Rembshire (an actually pregnant Felicity Jones), along with doctor Sanchez (Demian Bichir), pilot Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), and the young navigation expert Maya Peters (Tiffany Boone). All contact with home has been lost, but when they hear August, it sets them on an uncharted path back home, and this includes an asteroid storm that knocks out their comms. It makes the survival rate worse, and while the crew is dealing with outer space explosions, August is on frozen ground, trying to save his energy to get to the nearest satellite that can connect with the crew. Both stories involve life and death scenarios and mixed in are ominous flashbacks of August’s life choices that lead him to this fate.
From a director’s standpoint there are a lot of odd choices that Clooney makes, many that often takes the viewer out of the moment. One specifically is his choice to cast a different actor to play his younger self, but dub his voice over. It’s strange and noticeable every time. Then there are a collection of sequences that look nearly plagiarized from other science fiction films. A meteor shower hits while the astronauts are fixing a satellite ala Gravity. A snow storm hits like the Mars scenes in The Martian, and the entire paternal themes of The Midnight Sky are done better in Ad Astra. It’s hard not to think that Clooney saw all the cool science fiction movies his Ocean’s Eleven buddies did and wanted to do it on his own. Either way, The Midnight Sky never gels as a narrative.
Even with all those issues, The Midnight Sky still has some things to be proud of. It’s visually beautiful, the score by Alexandre Desplat is Oscar worthy, Clooney sports an impressive beard, his performance is solid, while the supporting work by Felicity Jones is equally strong. It’s because of all those positives that makes The Midnight Sky by far the most frustrating movie of 2020. The underlying fact is that other sci-fi movies have done it better. The Midnight Sky had all the prospects of being a big hit, I guess it just wasn’t in the stars.
THE MIDNIGHT SKY IS ON NETFLIX DECEMBER 23RD
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady