Premise: This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Midnight Sky, tells of a world evacuated and a dying man keeping the light on to notify the last remnants of humanity. Unfortunately, what could have been a thought-provoking exploration of regret and isolation ultimately turns into a piecemeal rehash of genre and wilderness survival elements that were done much better in the films from which Clooney draws inspiration. He forsakes exposition in favor of needless ambiguity that leads to a payoff lacking the emotional resonance the film desperately needs. What’s left is a hollow and joyless expedition into the last days of Earth that’s devoid of any real intrigue.
Augustine (George Clooney) is the lone scientist in the Arctic after humanity’s mass exodus following a global catastrophe. He’s isolated, he’s dying, and he’s not alone. When a quiet 7 year old stowaway named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) is discovered, she becomes his responsibility. Together, they work to contact the crew of the Aether, a ship en route back to Earth after an expedition to one of Jupiter’s moons (a potential new home for humanity), to tell them that Earth is dead. Along the way, we see flashbacks to the discovery of the moon and the romantic struggles of two young scientists that feels like an afterthought in the greater narrative.
What’s most frustrating about The Midnight Sky is the way it juggles these three narrative strands without having anything substantial to say about any of them. Augustine and Iris’s time onscreen is spent doing a fetch quest to get to a stronger antenna. Meanwhile, there is so little detail provided to the young romance flashback that when it does tie-in to the story, it feels like the film took a lengthy walk to a foregone conclusion.
When it comes to the crew aboard the Aether (consisting of Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler and more) their time is spent working to diagnose and repair their comms system instead of really delving into their situation. Being that they’re unaware of the global exodus of humanity, this plot line in and of itself has potential for great (if slightly derivative) character development. Yet, the film plays out as if the interpersonal dynamics of the crew and their experiences are perfunctory to the greater plot of Augustine and Iris on Earth. Since the spacefaring characters only get one or two scenes of bare development on the ship, when the time comes for one of The Midnight Sky‘s few set pieces, there’s an emotional void since the characters aren’t that well defined.
And while The Midnight Sky is by no means a thriller nor an action movie, it does get credit in at least one of its set pieces. The way in which a character enters into a perilous situation late in the film is by far the most engaging and harrowing moment The Midnight Sky has to offer. It involves the Aether crew and shows that Clooney can develop a slowly burning tense moment and use that tension to its full effect. Unfortunately, even this sequence is a bit hampered because it occurs in the shadow of a sequence that awkwardly apes Alfonso Cuarón’s work in Gravity (which featured Clooney) to an uncomfortable degree.
Ultimately, the film squanders its potential and leaves the viewer wanting much more than what’s there. The Midnight Sky is an exercise in meandering storytelling that’s ultimately too uninterested in developing characters along the way to make the slog worthwhile. Clooney’s direction and the script itself seem averse to developing characters in any meaningful way; thus The Midnight Sky‘s story suffers and will leave you, at best, bored.
The Midnight Sky premieres on Netflix on December 23rd.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.