The Midnight Sky Evaluate: George Clooney Stumbles On Haphazard Sci-Fi

When looking at Clooney’s recent directorial work, you can’t help but feel that the material needs a stronger and steer vision.

George Clooney in the midnight sky

After becoming one of Hollywood’s most popular film actors in the early 2000s, he worked with him wisely Steven Soderbergh on movies like Out of sight and Ocean’s Eleven, George Clooney stepped behind the camera for the dark 2002 comic and was surprisingly adept Confessions of a dangerous spirit. Then the Oscar nominee followed Good night and good luck. and the light but charming Leather heads. But then Clooney’s directorial skills failed on him and his directing efforts diminished in strength, usually due to a jumbled tonality that never seems entirely certain in the nature of the story being told. Clooney continues to pursue this issue in his latest endeavors The midnight sky. What should be a dark, irreconcilable science fiction at the end of the world, instead takes place in such a schizophrenic manner, how the inserts never make much sense and the script has to struggle with its double storylines of survival. The film attempts to explore the meaning of family at the end of the world, but even here, Clooney stumbles upon a sugary and undeserved reveal that only complicates the film.

The scientist Augustine (Clooney) is set in the year 2049 and “three weeks after the event,” an apocalyptic event that is an undefined mixture of plague and nuclear precipitation. He has decided to spend his last days at the Barbeau Observatory of the Arctic Circle, suffering from an incurable disease while the rest of the world dies from “the event”. However, his plans are thwarted when he not only discovers a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) is still alive at the outpost, but also that the spaceship Aether is returning from its two-year mission to explore a habitable environment on one of Jupiter’s moons. Augustine thinks he should warn the spaceship, so she decides to take the young girl to Adewole (to a better satellite) as a crew member.David Oyelowo), Sully (Felicity Jones), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demián Bichir) and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) unsuspectingly forget the way back to an uninhabitable home.

Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo in the midnight sky

Image via Netflix

I don’t want to spoil anything other than to say that Augustine’s plan doesn’t make a lot of sense as the narrative progresses, and it is only after a major revelation that his motives become clear and almost completely separated from their original intent. It’s just a bad conspiracy fighting to tell a story of Augustine’s lifelong regret and attempting to make amends by giving up his last days to maintain a semblance of humanity in the face of Armageddon. In more competent hands, this isn’t a bad story, and as far as performance goes, Clooney remains a great actor. But his performance serves a weak story that stumbles between life and death on Earth and a spaceship full of people who don’t know there is life and death.

The Midnight Sky should be a much sadder movie given its story, and yet it mostly feels just disjointed and bizarre. When Mitchell sits at breakfast with a hologram on his family, it should feel completely tragic and depressing, knowing that his family is likely dead and they won’t be waiting for him at home. But since we never learn much about Mitchell beyond his job on the spaceship, there isn’t much pathos other than the general feeling, “Oh, that’s sad.” Same goes for the other crew members and to some extent Augustine, who needs the help of flashbacks to explain to the audience why he is burdened with regrets.

George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall in the midnight sky

Image via Netflix

When I saw The Midnight Sky I was reminded of the latest sci-fi movies, and one that came to mind was the one from 2016 arrival. Like The Midnight Sky, Arrival is about deep loss, grief, and regret in the context of a science fiction narrative, but you can see the clear mastery of Denis Villeneuve in this film, and Clooney doesn’t. The cinematography in The Midnight Sky does not express the remoteness and even the score of the normally reliable Alexander Desplat feels upset. It’s a film about what makes life worth living in the face of certain death, but Clooney’s direction fails because we never feel that influence. It’s a film that mostly shies away from tragedy and is afraid of looking straight to death, and this prudent approach drains the film of any power it could have had.

Given that this is the first movie Clooney has made since becoming a dad, it’s kind of cute that he wanted to tell a story about how long parents will be to their children, especially if they have their lives before that dedicated to work rather than family. But as a director, Clooney’s skills haven’t evolved to tell that kind of story with the kind of gravitas and empathy that it takes. His motifs are solid and his subjects are worthwhile, but the execution just isn’t there. The saddest thing about The Midnight Sky is the realization that Clooney’s work as a director peaked over a decade ago.

Rating: C-

The midnight sky poster

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About the author

Matt Goldberg
(14735 articles published)

Matt Goldberg has been an editor at Collider since 2007. As the site’s Chief Film Critic, he has written hundreds of reviews and covered major film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and their dog Jack.

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