Directed By George Clooney
Starring – George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo
The Plot – This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine (Clooney), a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully (Jones) and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
Rated PG-13 for some bloody images and brief strong adult language
– Strong craftsmanship. Clooney’s first directing effort since 2017’s mediocre social satire “Suburbicon” doubles down on scale, all the while bringing with him the kind of hefty humanity that personalizes his story regardless of the scope of the epic maintained consistently in the radiant backdrops. This is a visually stunning movie, full of vibrant textures and jaw-dropping scenery that is captured exceptionally from famed cinematographer and long time Clooney collaborator Martin Ruhe. Aside from this, it’s the combination of craft between exterior shots that are wide-sweeping and fully immersive, to interior shots that are cool and crisp, resulting in a visual elegance in style that catered wonderfully to the substance of the screenplay. On a thematic level, Clooney zeroes in on a raw vulnerability to Augustine that not only makes him a compelling protagonist, but also one that articulates the loss of love and what could’ve been from his life if he took a different road. It captures George’s grip on the property repeatedly, and if nothing else makes this a book-to-film adaptation that author Lily Brooks-Dalton would commend him for, for bringing this high stakes world to life with unfiltered magnetism.
– Sky full of stars. On the other side to Clooney’s work in the film, he brings forth a performance as Augustine that does see him wearing the effects of being stranded in isolation for so long. Aside from a bushy beard of grey’s that ages George ten years from the suave stallion we know consistently, it’s Augustine’s brash demeanor towards a young girl he becomes stranded with that ultimately conveys the passage of time that has left him disturbingly humbled, and void of human interaction to keep him sane. Joining him is superb work from Jones and Oyelowo, whose impeccable chemistry as a dating couple on-board this ship enroute to Augustine helps to override some of the one-dimensional characterization that dooms their respective characters. More on that later. There’s also fine supportive turns from Kyle Chandler and Demian Bichir, who help round out a talented ensemble with an element to humanity that candidly and intentionally represents the side of the audience, specifically with third act decisions that adds value to their characters.
– Underlying sentimentality. This is resonated through the work of musical composer Alexandre Desplat, who is joined by The London Symphony Orchestra, whose audible marriage surrounds us with a combination of feelings and engagements that our tender ears can’t escape from, nor want to. Through a complexity of the violent tonal shifts that this movie applies, Desplat’s level of professionalism is exemplified within psychological consciousness that better fills in the gaps between those moments of silence between a character or characters that better articulates the ball of nerves rolling from within. What’s so refreshing is that Desplat refused to instill synth or electronica to the forefront of his complexions, instead investing in woodwinds, piano, brass and strings that convey an intimately harrowing experience, and tap into the kind of condensed narrative that Clooney takes the story in during various times throughout the film. It’s an unorthodox yet vastly rewarding experience of compositions that outline meaning from within, and cements another star-making turn for Desplat, who is truly one of the more experimental composers working in film today.
– Fantastical design. There is no shortage of beauty seen throughout the film that continuously captured my attention, and prescribed depth to a consistency in color pallet that is mostly white and grey. The prophet of this approach is a one hundred million dollar budget that prescribes some of the most realistic and bountiful computer generation that I have seen for a Netflix production, which captures a series of outer space imagery and and grand scope eclipsing that immerses the characters where they’re advertised. In addition to this, the paradox between contemporary and futuristic approaches with regards to the set designs is one that somehow meets a comfortable balance, and allows this film set in 2049 to feel like a factual reality with what’s possible when compared to “Blade Runner 2049”, which delved entirely in a fantastical approach. It spares no expense in attaining a level of believability to these lived-in sets whose boundaries feel like they far exceed those of the dimensions of a television, blessing us with a visual serenity that peacefully contradicts some of the more urgent matters that envelope these characters.
– Maverick style. There is an action sequence in the film that brushed reality, in that it’s a real life blizzard that Clooney and his youthful co-star become separated in, and battled -40 degree temperatures in doing so. In fact, because of said cold, and because Clooney was not wearing goggles, the production could only shoot these one minute takes at a time before the crew could stabilize in shelter. Aside from this being a daring approach to cinema that is rarely attempted anymore, the consistency and photography of the sequence is captured masterfully without any shred of momentum or urgency being sacrificed in the editing execution. It’s an approach so simple, yet performed so extraordinarily under the guise of caution, and is easily my favorite sequence in the film for how it pushes the envelope within this controlled chaos that spirals out of control without compromising our vantage point.
– Convoluted screenplay. Much of “The Midnight Sky” feels like two contrasting films jockeying for the attention and focus of the one being made within the parameters of the story’s 112 minute offering. One is on the ground, with Clooney and child interacting and growing together through this harsh inevitability that they both are engulfed in. The other is in orbit with this team of six astronauts headed towards Earth without the knowledge of what awaits them. Neither of these dual narratives ever breathe cohesively with each other, often being separated by a series of violent tonal shifts and amateur editing that abruptly intrudes on previous territory. In fact, these two sides can never be told simultaneously, instead taking the screen for roughly ten minutes each when the script requires it, and putting the other on hold whether we like it or not. I say this because I was very much into the Clooney subplot, and not so much into the space one, and by third act it’s clear that my interests were no longer important, as Clooney disappears from the film for roughly twenty five minutes between appearances, magnifying the attention of this contrived and derivative space narrative that felt ripped from 2015’s “The Martian”.
– Abrupt flashbacks. Adding to the script’s many problems is a series of flashbacks that are every bit visually awkward as they are clumsily conceived. On the latter, this is another example of the film’s faulty editing device that gives audiences no indication of a scene flashing back and forth between distinctive time periods, and often feels like an extension of the previous sequence. On the former, it’s the consequential decision to cast a younger director as Clooney’s character, instead of using some of that impressive computer generation to turn back the hands of time to a younger Clooney, that not only adds an unnecessary distraction to the integrity of the scenes, but also asks us to believe that these two are the same person when they share no physical likeness to silence my ever-growing doubt.
– One note characters. This deficit is what ultimately stunts the growth of their evolutionary arcs, but also hindered my investment into anyone but Clooney’s character, which in turn hurt my investment with their well-being. Part of it stems from this conveyor belt dialogue, which feels gift-wrapped for exposition as heavily as nearly any other film that I have seen in 2020, but beyond that it’s how the dialogue feels rummaged through a series of writers and script cuts whose last remaining consistency is these bundles of thoughts and feelings that feel too universal to feel nuanced within the perspective of the particular character in question. It requires a commitment to professionalism throughout this gifted ensemble to make something out of each of them, and even when they do, it isn’t convincing enough to a manner that makes them stand out as these meaningful characters that solidify their places within this film.
– Emotionally strained. Nothing within the realm of the screenplay ever compliments Desplat’s previously heralded musical score, which undercuts the layer of emotional intensity most noticeably missing from these moments of gut-punch delivery. You can see how it was hinted at during the occasionally sappy dialogue, which evolves to general moments of outlining downtrodden that seemed to set the stage for what was to come. Unfortunately, it’s the one area where Clooney’s direction over the actors and the story feels underutilized, in that it’s very much a drama that almost seems too proud to reach for the kind of low-hanging fruit that properly defines and evolves drama’s in the way needed to resonate with audiences. It sacrifices heft, and somehow still wants depth in consequences, illustrating just one of the many contradictions that dooms this film from ever feeling like one continuous voice.
– Underwhelming climax. Resolution to this film felt like an impossibility from the get-go. You factor in a movie’s plot where either one of two things is going to happen, and then come to understand that neither are going to have a monumentally lasting effect to the world created in the film. That’s “The Midnight Sky” to a tee, setting us up for a resolution that was doomed from the beginning, but all the more infuriating when you factor in how the movie concludes behind it. There’s an obvious twist, a sappy by-the-numbers selfless sacrifice that feels gift-wrapped for these films, and a credits roll that couldn’t be any less impactful to the imagery on-screen that still persists even throughout it. This offers an inevitably disappointing feeling in the pit of your stomach that practically begs you to say “That’s it?”, and solidifies why this story works better as a literary work of fiction than a cinematic character study that just disipates before our very eyes.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+