The Midnight Sky

★★★

I like George Clooney. Always have. Always will. He seems like a cool dude. He’s politically-minded and puts his money and influence behind worthwhile causes. The worst I can say about the guy is that he was a crummy Batman in my least favorite film of all-time – a movie he himself mocks incessantly.  

As a director Clooney’s a bit of a mixed bag – I have real love for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” and “The Ides of March,” I enjoy to varying degrees “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “The Monuments Men” and “Suburbicon” despite their shortcomings and I outright disliked “Leatherheads.”

Clooney’s latest as director and star is “The Midnight Sky” (now available on Netflix), an adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book “Good Morning, Midnight” scripted by Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant,” “Overlord”). Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a dying scientist who opts to stay at his base in the Arctic when his colleagues flee following a cataclysmic event (Possibly nuclear? Possibly environmental?) that’s wiped out much of humanity. He discovers a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind at the base. She’s largely silent. He deduces that her name is Iris due to a drawing she does of said flower.

The movie frequently shifts its focus and is ultimately three stories in one. We see Younger Augustine (Ethan Peck, Gregory’s grandson) romance Jean (Sophie Rundle of “Peaky Blinders”) and their relationship eventually crumble under the weight of his workaholism and emotional unavailability. Older Augustine stayed behind so could get in contact with Aether, the only active space mission. The ship is crewed by pregnant astronaut Sully (Felicity Jones), her partner Commander Adewole (David Oyelowo), pilot Tom Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), Sanchez (Demian Bichir) and flight engineer Maya (Tiffany Boone). They’re unaware of what’s occurred back home and Augustine encourages them to change course from Earth to K-23, a habitable moon he discovered earlier in his career.

Clooney seems to have a thing for space between “Solaris” (2002), “Gravity” and this. His enthusiasm is drowned out by the dour nature of the material however. Focusing on the positive, kudos must go out to Clooney and his production designer Jim Bissell (who’s worked on every Clooney-directed picture aside from “The Ides of March”) for matching the pattern on the stock of Augustine’s rifle with the interior walls of the Aether. I don’t know what this was supposed to mean, but it was cool and registered with me. Speaking of cool, I saw something here I’d never seen before – blood droplets floating in the anti-gravity of space. Appropriately enough, they kinda looked like Gushers.

It’s sort of damning that my attention was drawn to gun butts and fruit snacks. This is probably the result of “The Midnight Sky” being both scattershot and slow. (A late movie twist did pay emotional dividends however.) It’s safe to say that Clooney’s latest falls firmly into the category of enjoyable despite its shortcomings much like the majority of his directorial oeuvre. To y’all I say, “Good night.” To Clooney I say, “Good luck” … in recapturing whatever it was that gave earlier efforts verve and personality like the man himself.

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