GEORGE Clooney has won the Oscar for “Syriana” as an actor, but as a director, he has yet to achieve the success of other actors-directors like Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen as Oscar-winning filmmakers. Critical reception on his films as a director is mixed.
His directorial debut in 2002 is “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” about a TV game show host who becomes a CIA assassin. His “Good Night and Good Luck” about a CBS newsman fighting Mccarthyism in the 50s was nominated for Oscar best picture. His other films are “Suburbicon”, a black comedy with Matt Damon; “The Monuments Men”, a war film; “Leatherheads”, a sports comedy film with John Krasinski (who became more successful as a director with the big hit “A Quiet Place”); and “The Ides of March”, a political film with Ryan Gosling. For his 7th film, he now tries science-fiction set in a dystopian future in “The Midnight Sky”, currently streaming on Netflix.
The film is based on the 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Dalton and offers stunning panoramic vistas of outer space as well as wintry Arctic landscapes. The film starts 30 years from now after our planet has been hit by an unspecified catastrophe that contaminated the air with radiation (apparently, it’s more lethal than the corona virus.)
Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, an astro-physicist who searches for livable planets now that earth has become uninhabitable. All the other surviving people are being evacuated to a safer place. Augustine is based in Barbeau Observatory, a space lab in the Arctic Circle.
He finds out that an interplanetary mission in a space craft called Aether is returning to Earth, with its crew not knowing that doing so will surely kill them. The Aether has found a moon in Jupiter that is livable like Earth and he must warn the people in it that they should just return there to start a new life and not to attempt to go back to Earth anymore.
The problem is that his base’s antenna is too weak to contact them. He then has to travel to a distant base up north to be able to use their stronger transmitter. But he has other problems. He is suffering from an illness that requires him to undergo dialysis and he has a portable equipment that he administers on himself for this.
Then, a little girl about 7 or 8 years old suddenly appears inside his lab. She doesn’t talk and communicates only by drawing. He takes her along with him in his travel to the northern base and they encounter trouble along the way as they lose their snowmobile.
In flashbacks, we see Augustine as a young man (played by another actor, Ethan Peck), who has a relationship with a young scientist, Jean Sullilvan (Sophie Rundle.) But Jean leaves him because he has difficulty connecting with other people and he doesn’t want to have kids. After many years, they meet again and he learns that he sired a daughter with Jean, but he decides not to be introduced to her.
The Aether is headed by Commander Adewole (David Oyelowo) and his partner, Iris Sullivan (Felicity Jones), who is pregnant. Their space vehicle encounters trouble when meteorites strike them. Adewole and Sully decide to turn back and return to Jupiter, where they’ll start humanity as the new Adam and Eve.
But some of their companions chose to fly back to earth in escape pods, hoping to be reunited with their own family even if they’re uncertain what awaits them. The film offers a very morbid and depressing look into our future. You know Augustine is hopelessly doomed to die, but his decision to travel a very long distance to help Iris start an endangered humanity anew is a ray of hope that redeems the movie from being too bleak.
There is a big twist about Iris’s character that gives the film a sentimental element that will no doubt tug at your heartstrings. Clooney gives a persuasive portrayal of the haunted scientist, looking so old even his beard is already white making him look like a sick Santa Claus.
He has undeniable chemistry with the child actress, Caoilinn Springall, who plays the strange but very cute girl who pops up inside his lab from nowhere. You will really root for them as they face unknown dangers in their harsh and savage snowy surroundings.
The CGI work is also excellent, with spectacular shots of the spaceship and the newly discovered moon in Jupiter with its stunning landscape. There’s an astounding scene when a crew member of the Aether gets fatally injured and you see droplets of her blood luxuriantly floating in the air due to lack of gravity.
Clooney has worked as an actor in other sci-fi films before, like Soderbergh’s “Solaris” and Cuaron’s “Gravity”, and it looks like they have inspired him heavily to direct his own outer space movie. All in all, this apocalyptic movie is grim but still very watchable. We just wish it’s faster paced as there are some stretches (like that sequence showing the wreckage of a cargo plane in the snow) that really drag.