Review: The Midnight Sky

Not sure what George Clooney thought he was making, but this post-apocalyptic drama is a slog. In it a heavily bearded Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) is left behind at an arctic research outpost by choice after everyone else evacuates. He’s got only one goal and that is to alert Sully and the rest of the astronauts on a distant space mission that they can’t come back to earth because an unnamed disaster has made it uninhabitable. But he can’t reach them. And then he finds a cute little girl named  Iris (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind and the two of them have to make it to another research station across the unforgiving frozen landscape to get to a stronger antenna. Meanwhile, up in space Sully (Felicity Jones) and her crew that consists of her husband Tom (David Oyelowo), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) are happily heading home from a mission to scout out a habitable planet, oblivious to what’s happened back home, but growing more concerned each day that they aren’t able to reach NASA – or anyone else for that matter.

Little by little we get a backstory for Lofthouse. He’s dying and has to transfuse his blood daily, and he’s usually pretty drunk. He thinks back to his youth when he was a rising star in the astrophysics world and  he had a theory about a habitable planet out there, you know, the one that the space probe is returning from scouting. And he had a girlfriend he didn’t stay with who had a daughter he never knew. See where all this is going?

Up in space, there’s not a lot going on. Sully is pregnant. There’s a crash with some space debris and the coms go out so they have to take a space walk to repair it. There’s a bit of a tragedy that would mean more if you’d gotten to know the characters, but …

So people speeding towards an unwelcoming home and George racing across the frozen tundra to stop them, with a silent little girl in tow who he bonds with. The upside of the film is that George is very good in his role and as director he’s done a great job with the peril on the ground. It’ s just that up in space, it’s a different film with very little story to hang on to. The twist at the end is touching, but it doesn’t make up for the nearly two hours it takes to get there.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I get what the movie is going for, with its themes of perseverance and the need for human connection – how timely! – but it is a bit of a slog and the tone is immensely somber throughout, save for a “Sweet Caroline” sing-along during a spacewalk. A little Neil Diamond goes a long way here! The film was shot in the middle of nowhere Iceland and I suspect the visuals are far more stunning on the big screen. I haven’t read the 2016 Lily Brooks-Dalton sci-fi novel, “Good Morning, Midnight” that the screenplay (by Mark L. Smith, The Revenant) is adapted from. But I’d be curious to know what those who have read the book think of the film – and how the ending plays out. I found it less than satisfying. But while I wasn’t blown away by The Midnight Sky, it does have a solid ensemble cast, stellar cinematography, visual effects and direction, and a strong original score from 2-time Academy Award winner Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water). So don’t be surprised if it pops up in a few categories come Oscar time. -hb]

 

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