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Netflix Review: The Midnight Sky

April 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

2021 Academy Award nominee for Best Visual Effects

Based on the book Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s latest effort as a director and his first in the science fiction genre. It’s a decent if somewhat uneven sci-fi thriller that is ambitious in scope, but doesn’t always live up to its lofty goals.

In addition to directing, Clooney also stars in the film as Augustine, a lone scientist at an Arctic research base. The world has faced an apocalyptic event, and he is trying to contact a team of astronauts led by Sully (Felicity Jones) who have gone to space in search of a new planet that might be able to sustain us, to warn them that there is nothing to come back to.

But he has lost all contact with the ship. The terminally ill Augustine spends his time drinking whisky and giving himself blood transfusions to prolong his life, basically planning to die alone on the base. But he gets an unexpected visitor in the form of a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) who has been left behind, and he must protect her as he tries to get a message up to space.

The scope of The Midnight Sky is much larger than anything Clooney has attempted before as a filmmaker, and there are some aspects of the film that I admired. The Oscar-winning visual effects are solid, the cinematography by Martin Ruhe features some beautiful images of the barren landscapes, and the film’s impressive visuals are matched by a good if at times overbearing musical score courtesy of Alexandre Desplat. Clooney does a decent job of building suspense during the film’s key set-pieces, and there are some stirring moments, including a spacewalk that goes from jubilant to dangerous.

Clooney himself delivers an understated performance in the leading role, going for subtle emotion instead of big, showy scenes, and it’s a choice that works. He is backed up by a solid supporting cast that, in addition to Jones, also includes David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir and Tiffany Boone as the other astronauts. This is all to say that The Midnight Sky is well acted and technically well made, but the story itself feels somewhat underwhelming.

The pacing is a little too slow in the first half, and it doesn’t always feel balanced between the quieter, more contemplative tone of the scenes on Earth and the more action-oriented stuff in space. Some of the characters on the ship also feel underdeveloped, and aren’t defined well enough for us to form more of a connection with them. Certain details are kept purposefully vague. The cataclysmic event that has left the world mostly uninhabitable is left unexplained, with the film opting instead to explore wider themes of death and fatherhood. This is fine, but it ends up feeling like two distinct halves.

We get more of Augustine’s backstory through some flashbacks that feature Ethan Peck as a younger version of Clooney’s character. The trouble is that these scenes actually took me out of the movie somewhat, mainly because I didn’t really believe Peck as a young Clooney. While their voices are quite similar, the two don’t really look alike, and I actually think it would have worked better to utilize digital de-aging technology and have Clooney play the part himself.

While The Midnight Sky has some very solid moments and the visual effects are strong throughout, it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. There is good stuff here, but it would have needed a tighter edit, a clearer narrative, and more defined characters to bring its strongest parts into sharper focus.

The Midnight Sky is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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