The Midnight Sky: Review
Actors transitioning to the director’s chair is fairly common in Hollywood, but few have been as maddeningly inconsistent as Oscar-winner George Clooney. The superb actor registered a few notable splashes early on (Good Night and Good Luck and Ides of March are both riveting), but has since struggled despite his admirable ambitions (Leatherheads and Suburibcon couldn’t manage their mix of screwball and dramatic tonalities). Clooney’s latest endeavor, the big-budget Netflix epic The Midnight Sky, boasts similar inconsistencies. Even as the film grasps towards soaring heights, it’s well-meaning delivery never quite connects.
The Midnight Sky is a post-apocalyptic tale that follows Augustine (George Clooney), a lonely scientist in the Arctic who must raise an abandoned child(Caoilinn Springall). He races to stop Sully (Felicity Jones) and her fellow astronauts (David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir) from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
As a science fiction junkie, The Midnight Sky does impress with its well-constructed world-building. Clooney’s direction indulges in the film’s big-budget assets, constructing a dystopian landscape that still feels connected to our real-world plights. A mixture of sterile space facilities and barren landscapes further sells the character’s isolation as they search for personal solace amidst their warped realities. His opulent direction also impresses with the film’s tense action set pieces. Clooney successfully blends Martin Ruhe’s precise photography with Alexandre Desplat’s jumpy score to create a few sizzling blockbuster frames.
I appreciate Clooney’s efforts in marrying grand life-or-death steaks with insular character conflicts. Their sacrificial journey amidst humane desires to survive and reconnect with loved ones receives more empathetic frames than your typical blockbuster. The all-star cast excels at selling this dynamic, with George Clooney leading the way with a subdued paternal presence. Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo and Kyle Chandler also elevate fairly one-note roles, giving their workman-like crew members dramatic agency.
For a film that possesses all the right pieces, The Midnight Sky‘s narrative puzzle never flows as it should. In adapting Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel Good Morning, Midnight, screenwriter Mark L. Smith tries to spin a plethora of B-plots to enrichen the central narrative. There are some deeply personal conceits buried beneath the surface, but the slapdash structure dances through without fleshing out the dynamics. Audiences are left with dramatic frames that are often laborsome in their over-written nature, with Smith’s clunky dialogue spelling out narrative ambitions without a naturalistic flow. While the actors carry some of the weight, the screenplay underserves them at every turn.
Clooney’s film also struggles to reach genuine sentiments. Without thematic flavoring (platitudes about humanity’s self-serving attitudes during desolate situations are thinly-conceived), there’s little of note for audiences to grasp onto. Ideas about love and sacrifice are too banal to really register, as the narrative hits its predictable beats while lacking its own identity. The expensive set designs become mere window dressing for this relatively hollow science fiction experience.
I’ll always be a fan of George Clooney’s on-screen charms, but his directorial career continues to miss the mark. With The Midnight Sky, his earnest intentions pale in comparison to the film’s superior genre counterparts.