By Linda Marric
London, U.K – December 22, 2020: 4:56pm (NEW SCIENTIST): George Clooney’s last film as director, Suburbicon, was universally panned on its 2017 release, but the actor-turned-director is now back with The Midnight Sky, a deeply moving post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama in which he also stars. Adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s best-selling 2016 novel, Good Morning, Midnight, it follows a survivor of an apocalyptic event attempting to salvage what is left of humanity.
It is set in 2049 in the wake of an unspecified global catastrophe that has rendered the planet largely uninhabitable. Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) is the sole resident at an Arctic circle research facility, trying to beam signals to a spaceship that is returning home after seeking out new worlds. The ship’s oblivious crew, desperate to be reunited with their loved ones, are puzzled when they fail to communicate with Earth. As their journey proceeds, pregnant Sully Rembshire (Felicity Jones) and Commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo), the unborn child’s father, encounter further obstacles. There is also a powerful supporting cast including Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir.
A dejected Augustine, suffering from an undisclosed terminal illness, discovers that although the facility was evacuated and most of its inhabitants airlifted to safety, a young girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) was accidentally left behind. With his health in gradual decline, and finding himself plagued by painful memories of lost love and missed opportunities, he is determined to save Sully and the rest of the crew somehow. Augustine and Iris embark on a treacherous journey in sub-zero temperatures to a nearby communication centre, hoping their message can be received by the ship and its crew.
With an atmosphere at times reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, The Midnight Sky feels like a very personal project for Clooney. The film is sleek, if disjointed – it feels like two separate stories have been stitched together thanks to a slightly meandering screenplay – but this simply enhances the suspense, allowing each plotline to live in its own space.
As director, Clooney extracts some impressive performances from his cast, once again demonstrating equal ease behind and in front of the camera. Grunting behind an impressively long and greying beard, he is almost unrecognisable as Augustine, a man aiming to right all the wrongs in his life with one last heroic act.
The Midnight Sky is shot with a keen eye by cinematographer Martin Ruhe and elevated by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat’s stunningly mournful score. With some dazzling action set pieces, most notably an awe-inspiring spacewalk sequence culminating in a shocking tragedy, it is refreshingly free of obvious tropes and represents a return to form for Clooney’s directorial career.
Overall, this is a heart-warming story that explores the human condition with meticulous precision. Although it borrows heavily from more accomplished productions, there is no denying that this is a film full of heart and ambition.
The Midnight Sky will be available on Netflix from 23 December.
Published online 16 December 2020