A solid performance by Clooney and stunning visuals not enough to help a troubled narrative
THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)
George Clooney directs The Midnight Sky, a sci-fi drama adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel "Good Morning, Midnight". A dazzling trailer and low expectations created by previous failed directorial efforts by Clooney made the first act of The Midnight Sky an intriguing delight. Quickly though, the film fell apart, making a solid performance by Clooney and stunning visuals not enough to help a troubled narrative.
I have a love/hate relationship with George Clooney. He’s one of my favorite actors; put him in any film and there’s a great chance I’ll love, at the very least, his performance. His direction on the other hand not so much, especially after his last feature, Suburbicon. So diving into The Midnight Sky with low (very low) expectations, I found myself enthralled by the circumstances our lead was thrown into and trying to figure out what’s happened to the surrounding world. The direction is sharp and tactful up until it isn’t. At a certain point, it’s almost as if the film drains all the bright aspects of Clooney’s opening direction in exchange for large, unnecessary blockbuster moments. The Midnight Sky is overflowing with potential and “what if…” scenarios, but the film we got is ultimately a waste.
When people watch The Midnight Sky they will witness two different films with two separate tones thrown together. There's Augustine (George Clooney) fighting a terminal illness and attempting to make contact with a returning space mission, and then there’s the space mission. Apart from the big conclusion, everything involving Clooney is riveting. A film about a man stranded, fighting a terminal illness on his own and attempting to warn the returning astronauts to return to where they came is a fantastic narrative. It’s an isolated story, and it’s a story that never needed visual representation of the crew on board the returning vessel. If you’re catching my drift, the astronaut storyline is introduced more heavily an hour into the runtime, and by that time I just care about what’s happening on the ground; everything in space is meaningless because I haven’t spent any time with these characters like we have with Augustine. What makes matters worse is the way the film decides to combine the stories, and an audible groan escaped my body when this moment took place. The plot had potential, but it floundered with it and wound up making a distasteful experience.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The first hour of the film is spent almost entirely with Augustine (George Clooney) and Iris (Caoilinn Springall), a stranded girl he befriends until he can find her a safe haven. The two are very different, as one speaks constantly while the other is silent throughout - yet their relationship works. As they make a trek to a distant station to attempt to communicate with the returning ship, you care for their safety, although the same can’t be said for those above the Earth’s atmosphere. A talented cast inhabits the space ship: Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Tiffany Boone, and Demián Bichir. Sadly a talented ensemble cast can’t help a stale outer space mission that feels completely out of place from the happenings down on Earth. Their fates and decisions don’t mean nearly as much as Augustine and Iris’.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The film is gorgeous. It’s not often that we get to see another planet that’s not just made up of red, gray, or white, and instead thriving with life. The depths of space look terrific, and even the large blockbuster set piece is visually pleasing, despite being out of place. Earth has become that bland planet, while the planet they have just left is the world ours once was, possibly even better.
Cinematography is key, and Martin Ruhe shines when he wants to. Ruhe’s choices are smart, albeit tonally incorrect, with the outer space scenes coming off as far less warm than the occupants on the ground. The film can’t decide if it wants to be an indie survival feature, a misguided blockbuster, or an arthouse picture with awards contention (namely the final shots).
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
To put it simply, The Midnight Sky didn’t deserve such a powerful score. Alexandre Desplat has crafted scores for Best Picture winners and box office flops but remains the same throughout every film he scores is his quality. Similar to the likes of Hans Zimmer, there’s so much emotion captured within Desplat’s composition that highlights the film’s more memorable moments and makes less favorable ones more forgivable.
George Clooney sets his sights skyward but can’t quite breach the stratosphere with his lackluster sci-fi drama. Stunning visuals, a powerful score, and an appealing lead performance by Clooney can’t help a disjointed narrative and unremarkable roster of characters. Nevertheless, The Midnight Sky is infinitely better than Suburbicon; there’s a great film inside, it’s just unfortunately not all pieced together.
On Netflix: December 23, 2020
In Select Theatres: December