Augustine (George Clooney) is a scientist with a terminal illness left behind on Earth to face the effects of a mysterious global catastrophe. But when his isolation is interrupted by the impending return of a group of astronauts, he must race against time to warn them of the danger.
It’s been four years since George Clooney last graced our screens. Three years have also passed since his last directorial effort, Suburbicon, and so, clearly with an itch to scratch, he returns to acting and behind the camera for sci-fi, The Midnight Sky. The film, an adaptation of popular 2016 novel, Good Morning, Midnight, had a lot to live up to with some of the excellent films in Clooney’s back catalogue. Unfortunately, it falls flat on about every count, averaging out to a forgettable space drama that even strong visuals can’t save.
One of the high points of The Midnight Sky is indeed the visual effects. The bleak Arctic setting perfectly encapsulates Augustine’s (the protagonist played by Clooney) loneliness and isolation. Meanwhile, the space scenes are rendered with the brightness seemingly turned up a few notches to give space a cyber-punk/bubblegum fantasy feel that looks great. The set design is also excellent, with identical patterns in the props and environment subtly tying the Artic and space setting together and reinforcing Augustine’s back story told through flashbacks. Clooney is clearly no novice behind the camera; what the film seems to lack is any narrative drive.
The Midnight Sky screenplay is written by veteran screenwriter Mark L. Smith. With credits for The Revenant and Overlord, you’d have expected a plot packed with tension and excitement. The film, unfortunately, lacks in both. Despite a race against time to warn astronauts returning to Earth being central to the plot, there’s no build towards a climax at any point. Two key points in the script – Clooney’s character, Augustine, traveling to a weather station and the astronauts repairing a damaged radar tower – were ideal moments for developing a sense of urgency. Instead, these sequences focus on building up the characters, a jarring decision which sucks the life from The Midnight Sky and makes it seem to drag on and on.
One of the real let-downs of The Midnight Sky is the acting. George Clooney has delivered excellent performances over the years across genres, directors, and plots. He even excelled in another sci-fi drama, Gravity, despite little screen time. But Clooney seems within his shell in The Midnight Sky. He fails to capture your attention, despite being one of the only actors in his Arctic setting. His character’s self-destructive motivations, intriguing to begin with, are quickly disposed of to advance the plot, and this flatness in his character means he lacks chemistry with his fellow performers. Up in space, Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo are forgettable as loved-up astronauts, while the rest of their crew (including typically strong supporting actors like Kyle Chandler) have precious little character development to go on, leaving us with little reason to care about their fates.
Although Clooney is mercifully judicious with the runtime, The Midnight Sky still seems to just float along, bouncing between its Arctic and space setting with no real intention to build pace or tension. The two stories seem so disconnected, and the character development so stilted, that the mildly surprising twist at the film’s climax offers no oomph at all. In space, no one can hear you… think twice about this film and check out more recent impactful Netflix sci-fi dramas such as The Perfection or I Am Mother.
The Midnight Sky is really two familiar stories combined, with neither narrative able to stand alone. Disappointing. 5/10.