The Midnight Sky
In which George Clooney the director proves his most enduring quality in said role: boring the shit out of the average viewer. Which isn’t so different to his acting these days either. He fooled me first time round, since he rose admirably to the challenge of translating Charlie Kaufman’s translation of Chuck Barris’ Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) into a movie (albeit, failing to meet with Kaufman’s approval). Even with Suburbicon (2017), his more recent, tampering take on an old Coen Brothers screenplay, he brought the original parts to the screen with due conviction (the parts he introduced were, unsurprisingly, complete cobblers). So maybe it’s just down to the material. But given a third of his directorial efforts – this, Leatherheads (2008) and The Monuments Men (2014) – are as boring as a dog’s arse, I wouldn’t count on it.
Of course, Clooney, being a big old smoothy and about as sincere in his devotion to causes as your average Bono, is more than adept at bringing a level of surface acumen to bear on genre vehicles but not much else besides (all The Ides of March (2011) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) really needed to do was announce their earnest and worthy intent in order to get critics on board). Here, partnered with a big bushy beard, George is in last-man-on-Earth territory – or may as well be – isolated in the Arctic circle and attempting to warn a space ship not to return to Terra. On account of Terra being progressively uninhabitable due to a major disaster. Something to do with radiation wiping out most of the population (rather than an elusive virus or Bill Gates). George’s Augustine Lofthouse (I mean WTF?) is about to explain this at one point, but all we hear is “a mistake” amid the unhelpful – or helpful, to screenwriter Mark L Smith – static.
If that set up is fairly basic and comprehensible, it is also surprisingly elusive. I can only put this down to a resolute lack of drama, urgency and conviction, both in the plight of Clooney’s scientist and the events on the Æther. The latter has completed an exploration of a recently-discovered – also unexplained, but why not just pile on the implausibilities, masked by a veneer of scientific rigour? – habitable moon of Jupiter, K-23. All sorts of potentially exciting things soon occur, such as asteroid attacks on the Æther, and Lofthouse finding a plane wreck and plunging from his snowmobile into icy waters, but none of them raise the pulse. What this apocalypse really needed was a zombie or two.
There’s maybe one scene that carries a spark of originality, in a grisly sense. If you make it that far into The Midnight Sky without succumbing to terminal lethargy. Astronaut Maya (Tiffany Boone) discovers first-hand the effects of copious blood loss in zero G. That’s really the extent of any involvement, though. Kyle Chandler continues his quest to become one of the dullest actors going in any given role. Felicity Jones bares those rabbit teeth and her genuine pregnancy as Iris. David Oyelowo is always reliable, but he has so little to work with here.
It turns out the young girl (Caoilinn Springall) Augustine has been looking after in vaguely paternal fashion throughout was merely a hallucination. This “surprise” is blatantly obvious from her first scene, however, owing to the way auteur George shoots it. And if her Iris being a surrogate for Jones’ Iris – Augustine’s daughter he hasn’t seen in thirty years – isn’t quite as plain as day, it isn’t much of a stretch either.
Clooney, being a good little NWO stooge, is evidently making one for the team here, so The Midnight Sky is rife with requisite predictive programming. Swathes of the population wiped out between 2019 and 2049. Check. Destiny of humanity lies out there, among the stars. Check (EDIT: and I didn’t even twig that Oyelowo and Jones and baby were going to be the only ones left anywhere. I didn’t expect even this movie to be so facile as to embrace an Adam and Eve allegory. But it is the ultimate reset, I guess, logistics be damned). All the necessary NASA space edicts are present and correct – although, one wonders if the spaceship name is a coded message on the true constitution of “space” – and Augustine’s life rests in the hands of reliable old allopathic medicine. And booze. Nasty radiation is going to get you, because that’s an evergreen, all-pervading threat waiting in the wings. At one point – apropos nothing, as we see neither George nor the phantom child wearing it again – he instructs young Iris on the importance of mask wearing:
It’s okay. It’s alright. You have to. So do I. Just take a deep breath… That’s not so bad, right? Never take it off, no matter what.
You got it, George. We got it. Everyone in space understands the need for social distancing, with siloed quarters and interactions with months-old holograms. But they’re happy and they like it. And so should we be all. Space is as sequestered as everything else (“I don’t like passing through zones that haven’t been cleared”). So get used to it. If you survive. The poles are the last to be hit, we learn, while global air contamination is rising. Something definitely is. I can smell it. It reeks even more than the all-together-now rendition of Sweet Caroline.
I really don’t know what Netflix thinks they’re on with all these director vanity vehicles, since such a high percentage are, if not outright garbage, then piss-poor weak sauce. A few years back they were able to crow about enormous Christmas smash Bird Box (2018), with Clooney’s Gravity (2013) co-star. Perhaps they thought The Midnight Sky might be give them another SF monster. Perhaps they just don’t care.