George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Midnight Sky, has been taking a drubbing from critics. Actually, Rotten Tomatoes has The Midnight Sky, as of this writing, at 52 percent—but the audience score is just 26 percent!
Still, I come down on the positive side. Clooney has always been a decent director, although he has made a clunker or two. I loved his debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I liked Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March. But then there were Leatherheads and Suburbicon; he was riffing on his buddies the Coen Brothers a little too obviously with those.
The Midnight Sky is quite nice visually, and it’s well-acted by Clooney himself. While it seems like a mishmash of films that have come before, it is an absorbing apocalyptic science-fiction thriller—albeit a slow-moving thriller, much like the remake of Solaris in which Clooney starred (a vastly underrated film), with added hints of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Hey, if you are going to borrow some elements, take from the good stuff.
Clooney plays Augustine, a scientist purposely left behind in an Arctic atoll after an unexplained planet-killing event. As one of few survivors on the planet, he starts scanning the stars for interplanetary missions that might be unaware of the conditions of Earth. He finds one—a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons. The crew (including characters played by Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone and Kyle Chandler) is heading back to Earth and has no idea what happened.
Augustine tries desperately to communicate with the mission while tending to a child (Caoilinn Springall) accidentally left behind at the facility. Their scenes together are cute, and their journey through the tundra to a working satellite dish has some tense moments (including a wolf attack and some dangerous ice).
The movie moves at a slow pace, and that’s generally frowned upon in our fast-moving, let’s-get-on-with-it society. However, the pace and tone work here, because, hey, we have two generally quiet people surviving in desolation, with little chance for lively dialogue. Clooney manages to make the situation interesting. His performance anchors his film, and it’s a good-looking movie.
This is not Clooney’s best work, but it’s far from his worst. The Midnight Sky is worth a look if you like sci-fi.
The Midnight Sky is now streaming on Netflix.