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Film Review: The Midnight Sky

28 December 20 words: George White

George Clooney jumps behind the camera and sets off into space in new Netflix Original The Midnight Sky...

Director: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo
Running time: 118 minutes

Traditionally, films with ‘midnight’ in the title tend to become instant classics. There’s 1988’s Midnight Run, which saw Robert De Niro flex his comedic muscles as part of a delightful double act with Charles Grodin. Then in 2011, everyone’s favourite creepy director, Woody Allen, struck gold with the playfully entertaining Midnight in Paris. And two years later Richard Linklater played with viewers’ hearts in the emotionally impactful Before Midnight.

Yet The Midnight Sky, George Clooney’s latest attempt at establishing himself as a semi-respectable director, is far from a classic. In fact, it may well only be remembered for being one of the most forgettable films in recent years.

The movie takes audiences through two separate plots that eventually - after what feels like an eternity - interlink in the final moments. One storyline follows Clooney’s Augustine, a scientist in charge of an abandoned astrological survey station in the Arctic, as he looks after a young girl who was left behind when the rest of his team moved on. The other shows a group of astronauts, led by Sully (Felicity Jones), returning to Earth after a hefty trip into the depths of space.

Featuring a stunning cast and a narrative that, at least on the surface, sounds vaguely interesting, The Midnight Sky should have been significantly more entertaining than it is. Instead, poor pacing and excessive self-indulgence turn it into a slow and laborious affair. In its gratuitous two-hour runtime, only a few moments have any real effect on the audience, the rest of the film consumed by drawn-out scenes focusing on characters doing little of interest, often relying on interpersonal chemistry that just simply isn’t there.

The dynamic between Augustine and Iris (Caoilinn Springall) is easily the stronger of the two plotlines. Although far from unique, the reluctant father-daughter dynamic between the pair is certainly believable, leading to some heartwarming moments that encourage the viewer to root for their success.

Even in a year boasting few top quality releases, The Midnight Sky is one of the most disappointing of the lot

Sadly, these positive moments are consistently undermined by the uneventful and, quite frankly, unnecessary return to Sully and her team of boring, devoid-of-personality astronauts. The actors try their best with what they’re given, but there is a distinct lack of originality or likeability to their characters, and any attempt to establish any real chemistry between them consistently falls flat.

Even Jones and David Oyelowo, two fantastically talented actors, struggle to establish a genuine relationship between their characters, who are supposedly deeply in love and all-consumed by their passion for each other. The time spent with the crew is painfully uneventful, with the script failing to deliver enough enjoyable dialogue to make up for a relatively empty storyline. It’s easy to believe that a more streamlined narrative focused solely on Augustine and his adorable new best friend would have been much more engaging. 

As is customary for space-based science-fiction films, the cinematography is a saving grace for Midnight Sky. While some visuals look surprisingly low-budget, Clooney and director of photographer Martin Ruhe do an impressive job of creating an immersive world, managing to demonstrate the complex combination of brutality and beauty that open space can provide. 

Despite this, though, The Midnight Sky feels little more than empty storytelling in a pleasant-looking package. Frustratingly slow storytelling makes this a bit of a slog, with a lot of time dedicated to very little of consequence. The cast work hard to make the best of a shallow script, but ultimately this film lacks enough interesting characters or interesting moments to make it worthwhile. Even in a year boasting few top quality releases, The Midnight Sky is definitely one of the most disappointing of the lot. 

Did you know? For his role as an astronaut with cancer, George Clooney lost 30 lbs. As a result, four days into filming, he was hospitalized with pancreatitis.

The Midnight Sky is now available on Netflix

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