There is an integrity that comes with the mention of George Clooney. As an actor his choices are well measured, and as a director he never repeats himself. He has directed seven films to date: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Goodnight and Good Luck, Leatherheads, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men, Suburbicon and the new Netflix Original, The Midnight Sky.
Described by Clooney himself as “Gravity meets The Revenant,” the film tells the story of a scientist who races against time to prevent a crew of astronauts from returning to Earth. Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) is a leading figure in the search for alternative planets to inhabit, and who is the sole remaining researcher at a remote research facility in the Arctic Circle. Iris (Caoilinn Springall) is a young girl who was left behind during the facility’s staff evacuation, becoming a responsibility that Augustine never anticipated.
Meanwhile, the crew of the spaceship Aether are returning to Earth following a long voyage to Jupiter’s moon, K-23, with confirmation of its suitability. During their absence, Earth has been all but decimated by a mysterious catastrophe, which has sent widespread radiation rippling across the planet. All contact with Earth has been lost and it is left to Augustine and young Iris to trek across wind-swept Arctic plains to a neighbouring facility housing an antenna large enough to reach Aether.
The result is a dramatic science fiction saga that fits Clooney’s description and leans heavily on the tropes of two closely related genres: Sci-Fi and Western. While it can be argued that Clooney’s directorial efforts have been hit-and-miss over the years, it cannot be denied that his films are all impassioned and intentionally contrastive. The Midnight Sky feels like it has been a labour of love of his, and with a performance that involves such strenuous physical transformation, it arrives on the screen with an air of sincerity.
Clooney is excellent as Augustine and he delivers a notably restrained turn as the ailing scientist with no social skills. Having lost an incredible amount of weight, as well as featuring a full face of scruff, his embodiment of the character is compelling as he goes from a frail desk-jokey to a fully-fledged Arctic explorer. Excellent, too, is young Caoilinn Springall as Iris, the timid little girl who turns into a loyal companion, helping guide Augustine through their ordeal. This is her acting debut and it’s a very strong one at that.
The cast for the Aether portions of the story are Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir and David Oyelowo, with Jones and Chandler carrying the weight of the ensemble. While their chemistry is good, there is little believability of them being a world-class team of astronauts. It may be the amount of frivolity enjoyed on their mission, or the simplicity of their duties, but whichever way you cut it, they lack the probity of comparable movie crews from similar films like Alien, 2010 and Sunshine. Suffice it to say, a generous suspension of disbelief is required throughout the space portions of the film.
Fortunately, the strength of the Earth-based drama is enough to carry the weaker components, and with a third subplot of flashback sequences adding some context (albeit contrived) to Augustine’s life story, The Midnight Sky proves to be an engaging science fiction odyssey – one that narrowly escapes a gaping chasm of preposterousness.
It’s also important to consider the amount of practical cinematography and location shooting that saw Clooney battle real life sub-zero blizzards and various other treacherous conditions. The physicality that he demonstrates certainly goes a long way towards the film’s overall credibility and makes sense of his alluding to The Revenant. This might not be Oscar-worthy material, but The Midnight Sky should satisfy anyone who enjoyed movies like Passengers, Ad Astra and The Martian.
‘The Midnight Sky’ is now showing on Netflix – right HERE.