George Clooney pulls it off in his seventh feature film directorial effort THE MIDNIGHT SKY into the vastness of space. However, in his leading role as a scientist stationed in the Arctic, the Hollywood star remains grounded. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Midnight Sky (USA 2020)
Augustine (George Clooney) is a scientist stationed at a station in the Arctic. Three weeks have passed since an unspecified event marked the end of humanity on Earth. Now Augustine is vegetating. His only, final motivation is to try to prevent astronaut Sully (Felicity Jones) and a team of research colleagues from returning home after a space mission via radio. While trying to make contact, he suddenly becomes aware of a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) who is hiding at the research station. It gives Augustine new impetus – maybe there is a way out not only for him, but also for Sully and her crew?
George Clooney was in hiding as an actor for four whole years. Since his last appearance in Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” the Hollywood star initially received lukewarm feedback for his directing work on “Suburbicon,” then devoted himself to his role as a brand ambassador for the coffee capsule company Nespresso and recently made headlines for telling his 14 closest friends each gave a suitcase containing a million dollars as a thank you for many years of support. He has it – at least since he sold his tequila brand “Casamigos” for a billion (!) dollars three years ago. Actually, Clooney no longer has to work at all, which is why you can be all the more certain that all of the projects he is now working on are matters of the heart. Consequently, in his latest directorial work “The Midnight Sky” he also takes on all the important positions himself. He directs, produces and stars in the adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s debut novel “Good Morning, Midnight.” The fact that Clooney doesn’t turn it into a one-man show is probably the most impressive thing about the Netflix production, which, unlike so many other recent releases on the streaming platform, was not originally intended for the cinema.
Caoilinn Springall plays Iris, who Augustine (George Clooney) discovers one day at the research station.
When Clooney recently described his latest film as “a cross between The Revenant and Gravity,” he inevitably sent his audience’s expectations skyrocketing. Both films were awarded various film awards for their authentic catastrophe scenarios – sometimes minimalistic and reduced, sometimes archaic and brutal – and are among the best in their genres that have been seen on the big screen in recent times. Comparing your own work to two such primal cinematic forces is self-conscious – and in the case of The Midnight Sky, in many ways not all that wise. “The Midnight Sky” and its two alleged models are similar in setting and presentation: one half of the action takes place in a snow-drifted wasteland, the other half in space. But that’s where the similarities between the three films are exhausted. “Gravity” thrived on its stripped-down premise, while “The Revenant” lived on its naturalistic, harsh production. “The Midnight Sky” is much more ambitious in every respect, which also has its charm in places. But this results from completely different motives.
“’Gravity’ lived from its premise reduced to the essentials, ‘The Revenant’ in turn from its naturalistic, hard production. ‘The Midnight Sky’ is much more ambitious in every respect, which also has its charm in places.”
For example, from the narrative style, which can be divided into exactly two halves: the part on earth and the part in space. It takes over an hour for these two worlds to find each other via the only connection – a radio. But even if the initially cumbersome communication becomes more fluid over time, the two stories develop so independently of each other that screenwriter Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) Only at the very end and only with the help of a maudlin, manipulative twist is it possible to create the impression that one plot cannot exist without the other or that both are mutually dependent. Until then, the story about the lonely scientist Augustine and that about the dedicated crew of the spaceship Æther develop completely independently of each other. However, neither one nor the other is emotionally stirring. The plotline about Augustine and his attempts to fight against loneliness and going mad, reduced to the essentials, is pleasing because of its straightforwardness, but you can see the cards early on, so that you quickly suspect what will happen to the woman who will appear on the station one day Iris has on him. A sudden snowstorm or the discovery of a mortally wounded plane passenger serve as tension spikes, but seem too randomly selected and placed to really work as such. Instead, it is the routine constantly conjured up by Clooney’s character that proves fascinating in this part of the film.
Felicity Jones plays Sully.
The excellently tricked scenes in space almost seem like an attempted alternative to the minimalist lone wolf scenario on Earth: Sully and her crew have various tasks to fulfill and – unlike Augustine – have a clear goal in mind. Here too, the script seems to pick up isolated moments of suspense along the way, but once again these are of little importance to the big picture. In general, this “big picture” is difficult to grasp most of the time. The “event” described via text at the beginning of the film, which, as one can quickly piece together, led to the end of the world, is not mentioned in any way. Pictures of the destroyed earth are also few and far between. “The Midnight Sky” leaves its audience unclear until the very end as to what exactly is going on. The equally conjured “aha moment” takes place elsewhere, when it becomes clear what connects Augustine and the Æther crew. While “The Midnight Sky” seems very sluggish in the previous two hours due to its lack of rhythm (and thus forgoes any narrative conventions), the final moment of resolution seems like a single concession to the masses. Minimalism gives way to great drama and kitsch. This is downright unpleasant in its penetrance.
“The scenes in space seem like an attempted alternative to the minimalist lone wolf scenario on Earth: Sully and her crew have various tasks to fulfill and – unlike Augustine – have a clear goal in mind.”
While George Clooney, the loner with a full beard – in the truest sense of the word – looks good and challenges him in terms of acting thanks to small gestures and subtle facial expressions, Felicity Jones is (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) as pregnant astronaut Sully, probably the biggest disappointment in “The Midnight Sky”. Her reactions to various dramatic events always seem inappropriate; almost as if their reaction shots were shot independently of the rest of the scene. You often see the actress simply staring absentmindedly into space and otherwise sleepwalking through the scenes in a decidedly uninvolved manner. Considering Jones’ previous achievements, such a performance leaves one with a big question mark.
Conclusion: “The Midnight Sky” is a good-looking sci-fi drama that tells two stories at once. Taken on its own, the part on Earth is most convincing. On the other hand, the attempt to bring both storylines together at the home stretch was a complete failure.
“The Midnight Sky” is now available to stream on Netflix.