Review – A Clooney Cinematic Claustrophobic Contribution (“The Midnight Sky”)

A Netflix theatrical release, this movie is based on the 2016 novel, Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton and was a pet product of George Clooney’s, as he not only stars in this quasi sci-fi film, but produces and directs it as well.

It’s 2049 and things are not good. Something really, really bad happened that wiped out the planet (we’re never told about “the event”, but I’m guessing it was a nuclear war), killing off most of the population with radiation (?). BUT! Luckily, way off in outer space, a habitable planet called K-23 is found near Jupiter that’s just dandy for our colonization. In The Midnight Sky, these two stories run side-by-side as we flip back and forth from one to the other.

Our ‘A’ story involves Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney), an old, Santa-bearded, brilliant scientist, undergoing daily dialysis, and who’s the sole inhabitant of an Arctic research facility that’s desperately trying to contact the returning U.S. space-station, the Aether, and tell them the bad news. The ‘B’ story revolves around the lives of the astronauts onboard the Aether and their troubles in coming back from K-23 to what’s left of Earth. We also have flashbacks to Augustine’s life as a young man (Ethan Peck) who falls for a student (Sophie Rundle), but his work is more important than romance.

Out in space, the crew of the Aether, Commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo), pregnant engineer ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Felicity Jones), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), doctor Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), and Mason (Tim Russ) are facing some hard times in trying to get home. Besides going off course, they get hit with a comet storm and lose communications with Earth. But their troubles are eclipsed by the woes that are facing Augustine back at that freezing communications station at the Arctic. He’s just made a very strange discovery. A little girl.

Hiding from him, apparently from previous evacuation, is a mute 7-year-old that Augustine names Iris (Caoilinn Springall, making her film debut). Though she never speaks, she acts as an exposition sounding board for Augustine to tell us, the audience, what’s going on. And just like in the movie Heidi, he first doesn’t like the fact he’s got a kid to take care of, but soon begins to melt with her expressive blue eyes and ethereal demeanor. They even get a chance to have some fun, flicking peas at each other.

However, things go south with the outside antenna and they need to take a perilous journey to another, better station a few miles away in order to contact the Aether. Needless to say, their long, long, trek to the other station is no walk in the park! In fact, everything in this 2hr movie is long, tedious, and at times, dreadfully dull. Yes, this is a technically a sci-fi movie, but there are no aliens, no supernatural events, hell, you never even see what happened to the Earth! Sure, it has some great acting and set design, but the pace is glacial like the snow around that research station.

Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Vacancy) has adapted the book into a character study screenplay that, once it gets going, out stays its welcome after the second act. Take the intriguing story of Augustine and little Iris, who you know from the get-go isn’t what she appears to be. Clooney is such a damn fine actor and director that the entire movie should have been about him, his slow decent with deteriorating health, and his relationship with Iris, much like the movie Moon. Instead, half the movie focuses on the crew of the space station, which is about as boring and clichéd as you can get, save for a scene borrowed from Gravity (which also starred Clooney).

Clooney and Caoilinn (her very first movie ever!) have such great chemistry, you’d swear they’d been doing pictures for years. The rest of the cast are pretty much running on auto-pilot which, given the script, is about as much as they can give. There are some nice moments with Jones and Chandler, but the entire space opera could have been trimmed and cut.      

**Streaming exclusively on Netflix

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