The Midnight Sky

The Midnight Sky

Dept. of Post-Apocalyptic Parables


The Midnight Sky feels like George Clooney’s most personal work yet. It is, unfortunately, also his most disappointing.

As a director, Clooney has dabbled in a wide range of genres. From the stranger-than-fiction biopic of Chuck Barris, to the historically potent Good Night and Good Luck, to the Coen-esque comedy of Suburbicon, his efforts have always been political. They seem to come from a place close to his heart. He seems drawn to narratives that serve to bolster his worldview.

And while all of them have varied greatly in quality (I’m looking at you Leatherheads), they nevertheless had something important to say. The Midnight Sky is the first one that feels like it doesn’t.

The Midnight Sky

Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton, this movie tells the story of Augustine Lofthouse, the last man on the surface of the Earth, who is in a race against time to warn the five astronauts on the NASA spaceship Aether not to return to our now dead planet.

We aren’t told what happened, or why, or how we fucked everything up. We just know that we did. But The Midnight Sky isn’t a movie about what happens next. Clooney isn’t concerned with either cause or consequence. And therein lies its problem.

This is a movie of two halves. Both of which had the potential to be incredibly powerful by themselves, but were unfortunately undermined by a lack of focus. George Clooney and his screenwriter, Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Overlord), utilise the same narrative structure that Lily Brooks-Dalton employs in her novel. We make our way through these chapters, cutting back and forth between Augustine and Sully’s stories. And while this works remarkably well in the novel, here it feels like one too many digressions. It’s distracting. It undercuts the tension of the piece. But worst of all, it doesn’t give us the time or the space to get know know these characters in any real way.

And because of that, I found I didn’t really care what happened to any of these people. I wasn’t invested in their lives or whether or not they had a happy ending. Watching this movie, I had no idea who I should be rooting for or why.

The Midnight Sky

It feels like they couldn’t make up their minds on how to approach this story. One minute it’s a journey for survival through the Arctic, complete with unrelenting snowstorms and bloodthirsty wolves. Then it switches to an oddly aloof drama aboard a spaceship. Before finally delivering a final twist that, let’s be honest, you will see coming after the first pointless flashback.

I kept wanting this to be either one or the other. It’s either The Revenant. Or it’s Gravity. It can’t be both.

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I would have loved a movie which was set entirely on the Aether, in which the only contact we had with Augustine was over the radio. A distant voice. The last familiar thing from that place we once called home, slowly fading away like everything else we knew and loved.

I also wouldn’t have minded the story of one man’s selfless quest across the freezing tundra in order to save the last vestiges of humanity.

The Midnight Sky, in trying to do both, just ends up feeling distant and disjointed.

The Midnight Sky

Clooney is a remarkably competent director. He knows how to handle his set pieces. And he is just as deft at dealing with spectacle as he is with quiet contemplation. That said, there are moments here that slip into self-indulgence. Augustine’s trek across the ice in order to get to a bigger, more powerful communications array feels interminably wrong. And the Aether crew’s spacewalk to fix a radar module is so overwrought that it could be the basis of a whole entire episode of Star Trek.

The Midnight Sky

These post-apocalyptic parables only work if the characters in these stories have something worth living for. I’m not saying that I want some miraculous resolution at the end or even a happily ever after. I’m saying that I want characters with clear motivations and some semblance of a fighting spirit in the face of complete and utter annihilation.

I think about a movie like Snowpiercer. Which was also set in an utterly hopeless future, but was still emotionally affecting because it remained rooted in humanity’s predisposition towards survival. No matter the cost. Even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. That movie too was a genre piece, but it managed to blend politics and persuasive social commentary while being positively propulsive at the same time.

A movie like The Midnight Sky should have had more of an emotional impact. Especially after the year we’ve had. We’ve never been closer to the end of the world which, in itself, should have done a lot of the heavy lifting. And yet, this just ends up feeling vacant. Too caught up in genre tropes to be surprising. Too painfully paced to be exciting. And so disconnected that it ends up saying nothing at all.

The Midnight Sky
122 minutes
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Cast: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, and Caoilinn Springall

The Midnight Sky premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, 23 December.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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