Netflix UK film review: The Midnight Sky
James R | On 23, Dec 2020
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Caoilinn Springall, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler
Watch The Midnight Sky online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you…” Those are the words of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which get a poignant rendition partway through George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky. The film, based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel Good Morning, Midnight, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that takes us into a future where the Earth has been decimated – and the one lone survivor on the planet is trying to reach out and warn a returning space mission not to bother coming home.
Those themes of communication, environmental disaster and isolation feel particularly resonant at the end of 2020, and the movie delicately balances its bleak midwinter landscape with a pang of hope and potential for humanity’s future. That balancing act is rooted in the performance of Clooney as veteran scientist Augustine, who decided not to join an evacuation due to his existing medical condition. Rattling about an empty base, he’s a solitary, grizzled figure, and Clooney sinks his teeth into the chance to play stoic and brooding. He gets broody, too, when he stumbles upon a young girl (a sensational Caoilinn Springall) who has managed to survive too, and their fledgling bond, which is mostly unspoken but sparks to life in a brief food fight, is sweetly observed.
All of this, though, is unevenly juggled with the film’s other narrative strand: the mission heading back from one of Jupiter’s moons, which they’ve decided could be suitable for colonisation. The crew of the spaceship Æther are played with a pleasant camaraderie by an impressive ensemble, including Felicity Jones as their pregnant leader Sully, David Oyelowo as the loyal Commander Adewole, Tiffany Boone as engineer Maya, Demián Bichir as astronaut Sanchez and Kyle Chandler as homesick number two Mitchell.
But they struggle to prove as compelling as Clooney’s lone wolf, as the film doesn’t balance its screentime between characters as well as it balances its tone. The emotional third act therefore isn’t as moving as Alexandre Desplat’s score suggests it should be; the contact between Augustine and the Æther, when it does come, feels overdone rather than underplayed. That leaves The Midnight Sky feeling aptly adrift in a sea of similar sci-fi outings, from Interstellar and Ad Astra to Gravity.
Yet there are nonetheless things to admire, from the handsomely mounted production design to one hauntingly composed set piece involving floating globules of blood. In those moments when The Midnight Sky matches its ambitious reach, it’s a beautifully melancholic meditation on parenthood and loneliness, but more often than not, it doesn’t quite connect.
The Midnight Sky is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.