George Clooney produces, stars in and directs the new Netflix sci-fi drama, "The Midnight Sky."
It's an apocalyptic future that's imagined in "The Midnight Sky" (is there any other imagined future these days?). The year is 2049, and a mysterious event has led to much of the planet becoming uninhabitable. We see the radars of the spreading deadliness, but it has not yet reached the Earth's icy poles.
That's where Augustine (Clooney) is stationed. As others evacuate, he decides to stay at his satellite post...he is the only chance left on Earth to make contact with a manned space shuttle who had left two years prior, having discovered a habitable moon of Jupiter, and now on their return flight back to a planet that will soon no longer be able to maintain life. Clooney sacrifices himself for personal reasons as well as understanding that humanity's survival as a species might fall on his shoulders...if he can just make contact and get the crew to turn around and return to the newfound moon, humanity might be given a second chance.
Clooney's story is just one of two major threads weaving the film together. The other is the story of the crew itself, a tight, diverse unit of astronauts who can't wait to return home. Being isolated with no one around for two years, things are bound to, um, happen, which explains why Sully (Felicity Jones) is pregnant with Commander Tom Adewole's (David Oyelowo's) baby. The crew is filled out with the pilot, Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), Sanchez (Demian Bichir) and Maya (Tiffany Boone).
Back on Earth, things are a bit complicated. Augustine is dying from something unrelated to the apocalypse, requiring occasional self-imposed blood transfusions. To make things even crazier, he finds a young child, Iris (Caoilinn Springall), stowed away. When he decides that the only way to possibly connect with the space ship is to brave the wintery landscape and trek over to a different satellite location, things go from bad to worse.
While this all sounds exhilarating, "The Midnight Sky" is mostly a contemplative, heady space opera, with powerful themes of human connection, loss and redemption. The film isn't interested in what led to the disaster, it lives in the now, even if some of its characters are still anchored by their pasts. In flashbacks, we come to understand the psychology that might be Augustine's driving force, and we start to ponder whether or not Iris isn't just a figment of his broken mind. On the ship, Star Trek-esque holo-decks allow the crew to experience certain memories that have been loaded into the ship's mainframe. A touching moment shows Mitchell reach out his hand to hold a holographic hand of his wife, who really isn't there.
Everybody in "The Midnight Sky" is longing for connection...Augustine wants to connect to the ship but also to his face his demons. The crew wants desperately to connect to their home planet, and to each other. This is some pretty cerebral stuff, and not at all a movie driven by action or contrived drama.
Add to it all, some of the best outer space cinematography since Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," a film that Clooney was clearly influenced by (most likely because he was in it!). The score by Alexandre Desplat is symphonic and hypnotizing. You might find it interesting too, that Felicity Jones' character, Sully, was not meant to be pregnant in the script, but when the actress informed Clooney of her real-life pregnancy, it was written into the script. The idea that she's with child just adds additional layers to the idea of rebirth and connection (when the crew listens to Sully's baby's heartbeat, they are literally over the moon...their search for new life being fulfilled and being their main motivation).
The relationship between the two main story-lines though - Clooney on Earth and the crew in space - isn't at first evident. Some viewers might see them as too far apart, making the movie feel a bit disjointed. As it goes along, the journey of Augustine and Iris is so much more compelling, that every time it cuts back to the shuttle, some wind is let out of the sails.
Still, "The Midnight Sky" feels different than every other movie this year, and while it shoots for the stars, it isn't quite out of this world.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes.
Starring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Sophie Rundle.
Directed by George Clooney ("Suburbicon," "The Monuments Men," "The Ides of March," "Leatherheads," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind").
"The Midnight Sky" is available on Netflix on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020.
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