George Clooney’s new film is fascinating for the ominous mood it conveys visually. Set against the aftermath of a global catastrophe, the sci-fi drama has poignant core, too. You spot profound intent in storytelling, and the comment it sets out to impart is an urgent one.
Of the seven films he has directed since Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind in 2002, this is by far Clooney’s most ambitious project.
Clooney’s new self-starring directorial is also among his most unsure efforts ever as a filmmaker, and the least engaging. Somewhere, as the narrative loses focus after a starting off on a high, you are left disappointed not just because the film tells you civilisation on the planet has ended by 2049 (coming after Blade Runner 2049, that’s disconcerting isn’t it?), but because Clooney’s effort fails to craft a narrative interesting enough out of that situation.
The Midnight Sky leaves you with a mixed feeling. You cannot gloss over the reality it highlights, and yet the fantasy it weaves onto that reality is too tedious to thrill.
Based on the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the screenplay by Mark L. Smith casts Clooney as Dr Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist who stays behind when others at his station, somewhere in the lap of Arctic nothingness, have vacated the place. Although nothing is specified, we get the idea that some sort of a climatic disaster has ushered apocalypse. Augustine is not well, and his symptoms suggest he could be victim of a radiation.
At the station, Augustine meets a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall). Like most other things, Smith’s writing glosses over the need to explain the girl’s presence. Augustine chances upon a problem. A team of astronauts, out on a space shuttle name Aether, are on their way back to Earth unaware of the apocalypse. Augustine decides he must stop them from landing on the toxic planet. For this, he must make a perilous journey to an area where the air is comparatively cleaner, and from where he can contact the Aether crew. He must take Iris along.
The narrative comprises parallel stories — of Augustine and Iris making their way across endless snowed-out terrain, and of the Aether crew making their way home. Predictably Aether will have a mishap on the way, cutting down the spacecraft’s chances of smooth communication with Earth. For added impact, there are relationship sub plots woven around the crew of the space shuttle, particularly the ship’s Commander Tom (David Oyelowo) and his pregnant partner Sully (Felicity Jones).
Neither storyline has enough drama to evoke audience interest. Augustine navigates his snow mobile on his arduous journey, Iris in tow, punctuated by the odd incident that is barely worth the suspense. On Aether, crew members Maya (Tiffany Boone), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) and Sanchez (Demian Bichir) battle along with Tom and Sully as a meteor storm wreck the ship’s radar.
The film draws from stock formulae of two commonplace genres of Hollywood mainstream — the spaceship adventure and the saga of survival in wilderness. As stock situations play out, a runtime of little less than two hours starts testing your patience.
There is not much the cast can do, Clooney included — which is a sobering thought given the actor’s ability to make a spirited difference in whatever role he attempts. In contrast this must be one of George Clooney most forgettable performances. That it should come in a self-directed effort is the film’s biggest irony.
The Midnight Sky; Cast: George Clooney, Ethan Peck, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demian Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Caoilinn Springall; Direction: George Clooney
–ians, VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY