The Midnight Sky

by | Dec 28, 2020 | 0 comments

George Clooney’s latest directorial outing proves to be a third consecutive disappointment

George Clooney had a promising start as a director with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), and The Ides of March (2011). While the international star has done some solid work since then on TV, with the miniseries Catch-22 (2019), his subsequent slew of film projects has been criminally disappointing. The likes of The Monuments Men (2014) and Suburbicon (2017) took on very ambitious projects with great potential and talent, but seemed to bungle it with a sense of overcrowding and lack of focus. Clooney’s latest directorial effort comes as his first collaboration with Netflix and seems to follow his big screen trend.

The Midnight Sky (2020) is adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel “Good Morning, Midnight.” The film follows a solitary scientist named Augustine (George Clooney), who has chosen to remain in an arctic scientific station amid a catastrophic collapse of civilization. The cause of such a disaster is never given, we only are informed of great waves of radiation slowly covering the earth, making their eventual way to the planet’s poles. Meanwhile a space expedition, mapping a recently discovered moon of Jupiter, is making their way back to earth without knowing the drastic changes that have occurred back home. Thus, it is up to Augustine to contact and warn the space crew of the situation on the planet.

Netflix has clearly provided a hefty budget for Clooney to work with, which helps produce some stunning visual effects and incredibly inventive production design. It is in this latter part that we see the effort that Clooney went throughout the film to remain realistic and scientifically accurate. This focus allows for some rather inventive scenes, one of my favorites of which was a character bleeding in zero gravity, watching the blood form into little floating droplets that seemed to teasingly emulate a biological constellation. The film is set in 2049, but Clooney’s production team don’t strive to be exaggeratedly futuristic; instead, we see some minor modifications of current technology, or simply the employment of current prototypes. It helps ground the film in an accessible future rather than the distracting ones we get in space operas.

Being a renowned name, Clooney also attracts some shiny talent, as such the American has assembled an impressive array of underrated but talented actors such as Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, and Kyle Chandler, who make up part of the space crew. Jones seems to take in most of the spotlight in the space scenes, becoming the de facto protagonist in them, and I was rather pleased with how Clooney incorporated a key part of her physique. Jones was pregnant during the shoot of The Midnight Sky when her character in the book wasn’t. Instead of delaying production or looking for another actress (I doubt the very liberal Clooney would have done so), he incorporates her pregnancy into the character. As such it adds some surprising layers to the film and character that would otherwise have been inexistent. Jones’ character Sully seems completely uninhibited by her condition (as it should be) and performs tasks as any other character would. It seems like such a simple and menial detail to include, but unfortunately pregnant characters (and pregnant people) have been treated and seen as having a disability or disadvantage; thus, its inclusion here becomes as empowering as seeing Frances McDormand’s pregnant cop in Fargo (1996) or Olivia Colman’s secret agent in The Night Manager (2016).

However, The Midnight Sky’s script is too unfocused to bring about much of a conclusion or thematic congruency with the story. One of the big factors behind this is the division of the film into two distinct parts. The Midnight Sky seems at many points to be two separate films. The characters and respective plots are perfectly poised for each of the halves to become their own film. By being included together, however, there’s a dilution and severing of time and character development that would have made each adventure more poignant. As such, we are left with a feeling of incompletion with both storylines. The time that The Midnight Sky does spend with the respective storylines is also poorly written. The space crew characters are written with a barebones structure, many having half a scene or a single line determining their entire character. This works against the film when we’re asked to feel emotional for the fates of these characters. Some of the mistakes here are somewhat mended by talented cast, who are able to exude some charm and charisma to attract viewers. Clooney’s arc as Augustine has much less dialogue, and it because of it, is the stronger narrative, relying on the directing and performance instead.

Despite a scanty construction of characters and some sloppily meshed storylines, my biggest disappointment was with the motivations behind making The Midnight Sky in the first place. Clooney has always been a director, up until now, with a clear reason behind making a film, whether to tell a specifically important story, or deliver a timely message. The Midnight Sky seems to have nothing to say. Even an accidental message, with an immersion into isolation and anxiety would have proven to be intriguing, with its parallels to pandemic life. However, mixing the two storylines in the film causes for a possible claustrophobia or mystery to instantly dissipate. The Midnight Sky seems to be hitting the notes of its narrative so predictably that it gives off the aura that you’ve already seen this film before. There is a clear inspiration with the likes of Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), but while those films brought something new to the screen, The Midnight Sky seems to be a lazy act of borrowing and shoddy editing. As such moments that could have been tense are boring, and the spectacle of the vastness of space or an apocalypse leave viewers indifferent.

The Midnight Sky proves to be yet another disappointing entry in Clooney recent directorial filmography. The stellar visual effects, production design, and performing talent only take this film so far. The shoddy script, messy stitching of storylines, and lack of a reason for existing, makes skipping The Midnight Sky the best recommendation.  

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 55% 55%

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What’s the most disappointing space film you’ve watched? Comment below

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