Based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s debut novel Good Morning, Midnight, The Midnight Sky follows a lone scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney), as he chooses to stay behind in his Arctic base. The rest of the people, however, evacuated the Earth following a mysterious worldwide catastrophic event.
Just as Augustine figures he’s all alone in the base, he discovers there’s a little mute girl named Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall) was left behind during the evacuation. Augustine, who is actually dying from cancer, tries his best to stay alive to take care of the girl.
The movie also focuses on Augustine’s attempt to contact the Aether spacecraft, where astronauts — Sully (Felicity Jones), Commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) and Sanchez (Demián Bichir) — are returning home after their mission to Jupiter. Apparently, they are unaware about what’s going on back home and Augustine is basically trying to warn them.
The Midnight Sky sees Clooney, who also directed the movie, juggles its narrative three ways — the earthbound setting on the Arctic base that takes place in 2049, the Aether spacecraft and also flashbacks centres on the young Augustine’s (Ethan Peck) backstory. The latter backstory is the least effective of them all. And while I understand it is meant for making us understand more about Augustine’s character, the numerous flashback moments feels more like an emotionally-hollow filler than a necessity.
For the Aether spacecraft storyline, it looks as if Clooney is trying to do his own version of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity — the 2013 sci-fi masterpiece where he happens to star as well. The result is reasonably stunning, with Clooney does quite an excellent job in executing the movie’s best moment — the thrilling spacewalk as we witness the crew trying to repair the damage when they encounter meteor showers. The special effects are just as good while Alexandre Desplat’s rousing orchestral score complements the scene well enough.
In fact, I must say Desplat’s score certainly upstage a lot of scenes and certainly helps to keep the pace going. Except that The Midnight Sky is meant to be a deliberately-paced sci-fi drama, with only a few suspenseful and action-packed moments every now and then.
While I don’t mind a sci-fi movie moving at a slow pace, the problem here is Clooney’s weak attempt in making a quietly affecting drama about loneliness and regrets. For all the unkempt bearded look and restrained performance, Clooney’s role doesn’t resonate much. It doesn’t help either when most of the earthbound scenes feel like a tedious slog struggling to reach the finish line. He also botched the opportunity of establishing the unlikely bond between his gruff scientist character and the mute little girl. The rest of the cast is adequate enough for their respective roles.
Then, there’s the final twist towards the end which I won’t be discussing here in details. But what I can say here is that the ending feels more anticlimactic than something impactful. Not especially with all the lack of dramatic heft and emotional connections between these characters involved.
Clooney may have what it takes to handle a big-budget sci-fi production (the movie reportedly cost US$100 million) and succeeds in delivering the spectacles. But when comes to both story and characters, this is where The Midnight Sky falters the most. Frankly, it’s a shame that the movie ends up being a lost opportunity drifting in the deep space.
You can stream The Midnight Sky on Netflix beginning from December 23, 2020 onwards.