Skip to content

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020) review

December 26, 2020


written by: Mark L. Smith
produced by: Grant Heslov, George Clooney, Keith Redmon, Bard Dorros & Cliff Roberts
directed by: George Clooney
rated: PG-13 (for some bloody images and brief strong language)
runtime: 118 min.
U.S. release date: December 23, 2020 (Netflix)


George Clooney is no stranger to science fiction, having starred in 2002’s “Solaris” remake from Steven Soderbergh and played a pivotal role in Alphonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” from 2013. It’s been four years since the actor has been in a movie (“Hail, Caesar!”) and six years since he directed one (“Monuments Men”) and now there’s “The Midnight Sky”, a science fiction film that Clooney stars in and directs, a post-apocalyptic one at that. There was something about the story here, which is adapting the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, that made him come back to this genre and get in front of and behind the camera once again.

While not having read the source material, it’s clear that transitioning such a story to the screen is no enviable task. Screenwriter Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant” and “Overlord”) was tasked with finding a way to coalesce two extreme environments, one on Earth and one in space, that tell tales of survival at different speeds. While somewhat interesting, the journey unfortunately wavers in interest and inevitably ends up woefully uneven.



The story is set in the near future, some three weeks after “The Event” (which was an undefined cataclysmic occurrence that wiped out most of mankind), in the year 2049. At the Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle, we meet Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney), assumedly the last man on Earth. Through his memory flashbacks, we learn Augustine has chosen to stay behind after everyone else evacuated, since he maintains a medical routine for a terminal illness there which keeps him alive and he’s committed to staying in touch with Aether, a spaceship on its way back to Earth after exploring an inhabitable planet, K-23, located very far away.

Onboard this ship are Sully (Felicity Jones), Tom (David Oyelowo), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), and Maya (Tiffany Boone), astronauts who are unaware of the evolving environmental disaster that plagued the Earth. With the observatory’s signal weakened, Augustine must travel to the nearest weather station, but such plans are derailed with the discovery of Iris (introducing Caoilinn Springall), a seemingly mute young girl who was left behind. Augustine takes her with him as he makes his way out into the frozen tundra, enduring the violent weather and perilous landscape. At the same time, Sully and her team are confronting their own survival challenges, which seem to increase as they get closer to Earth.

The environmental catastrophe which is eating away at the Earth is never specifically defined, but if you’ve seen any other movie it’s safe to blame it on mankind. Thankfully, the story here isn’t focused on capturing massive tsunamis, devastating earthquakes, or other extreme natural events that have wreaked havoc on the planet in other movies. Whatever has happening is continuing to happen, making the planet uninhabitable as pockets of radiation move in the direction of Barbeau, which is one reason why Augustine is determined to contact the Aether.



One other reason might be his isolation. It’s ironic that Clooney’s character had to contend with space madness in “Solaris” and here it’s the madness of being on Earth yet cut off from everyone else, with communications down due to atmospheric changes.

The focus of “The Midnight Sky” is concerned with characters rather than sci-fi spectacle or end times dilemmas, chiefly following the past and present of Augustine. When he reflects on his past, we see a younger Augustine (played by Ethan Peck, with an uncanny Clooney cadence to his voice), committed solely to his work, which affects the romantic relationship he developed with Jean (Sophie Rundle) after meeting her at a presentation he spoke at.

Looking after Iris provides the introverted Augustine with a distraction from the pain of his memories and reflections. However, the pair have to survive a handful of perilous situations in the harsh and unpredictable environment as they make their way to a stronger satellite antenna via snowmobile, all in hopes of finding a better communications system so he can let the crew know what dire straits the Earth is in.

At the same time, we continue to check in with the crew of the Aether, getting to know their different personalities and responsibilities. They deal with issues such as homesickness, Sully being pregnant (Smith and Clooney worked in Jones’ pregnancy into the story), and the clashes that come while living in one location together (that should be relatable for viewers). Because survival is always a factor in space exploration stories, there also includes a sequence where a space walk is required to repair the ship’s exterior after an encounter with debris. The swirling camerawork by Martin Ruhe (who lensed Clooney in “Catch-22” and “The American”) leading up to and during the repairs isn’t as dizzying and urgent as Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on “Gravity”, nor does it offer a new or different outcome that’s been seen in previous movies with similar sci-fi peril. Navigation issues and space repairs (the former usually results in the loss of a crew member, so that’s no surprise here)

The parallel stories eventually merge as the crew of the Aether manage to communicate with Augustine, which leads them to make some hard and important decisions. The problem is we haven’t spent enough time with this crew to be fully invested in the decisions they make, since were bouncing back and forth. When Bichir’s Sanchez decides to stay with his buddy, Chandler’s Mitchell, it’s clear this is supposed to be a heartfelt bro moment, but it’s not earned because it wasn’t established that these two were tight all along.



The ultimate decision that Felicity Jones’ Sully makes is understandable and her final communication with Augustine is supposed to be a big plot reveal mic drop, but if you’ve been paying attention it’s not much of a surprise and winds up more like a shrug. Call me heartless, but I feel that’s what one thing the movie lacks: heart. I can only imagine the book is much more engaging than this adaptation. The end credits in and of themselves are so underwhelming, like the camera was left on while the actors and crew closed down the set.

The score for “The Midnight Sky” could’ve been better considered it was done by two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat and it unfortunately lacks no subtleties, adding a overbearing thickness to the melodrama and risky situations for both stories that do neither any favors. such an approach isn’t necessary and honestly quite jarring. Desplat’s music during a bonding food fight scene between Augustine and Iris feels way too forced and cutesy and takes away from the intent.

That being said the song choices in “The Midnight Sky” don’t help the movie either as they suffer from either an obviousness or overexposure. As the film opens, Augustine is getting drunk on whiskey, while playing Chris Stapleton’s “Tennesseee Whiskey”, which is like playing Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” song while drinking at a frat party. It’s a strange on-the-nose music moment, but it’s sadly not the only one. That nicely filmed spacewalk is ruined by the entire crew singing along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”…in 2049. Talk about a ripcord effect. That song should be sent to movie moratorium.

While Clooney aims to cement compelling drama throughout “The Midnight Sky”, using stillness and spectacle, he just doesn’t pull this off, since the story aims for a brainier type of sci-fi. Despite solid art production and a cast that has proven themselves in the past, the end result suffers from a predictable and anticlimactic conclusion.






No comments yet

Leave a Reply