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The Midnight Sky

Sorry for the short review, folks, because I got nothing. I’ve got absolutely nothing.

The Midnight Sky is a sci-fi vehicle for George Clooney, who stars as well as directs. The cast also features such impeccable talents as Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, and a remarkable young newcomer named Caoilinn Springall. It’s a two-hour feature with wonderful performances and remarkable production design.

But what the hell is it?

As far as I can tell, George Clooney plays an astronomer named Augustine Lofthouse, who discovered a moon on Jupiter that could potentially sustain human life. That comes in quite handy in the near future, when the world has been covered in some kind of radioactive plague. The terminally ill Augustine stays behind at an observatory in the Arctic Circle while the rest of humanity takes off for Jupiter’s moon.

(Side note: Someone named Ethan Peck shows up to play Clooney’s character in flashbacks. Peck doesn’t look much like a young Clooney, but the voice is a dead ringer. I can’t find any confirmation that Clooney dubbed all the lines himself, but he could’ve fooled me.)

Why does Augustine stay behind? Well, he’s apparently trying to contact some kind of spacecraft for some reason. It’s frustrating how such fundamental basics of the plot are kept from the audience until the third act. There’s being nuanced, there’s being obscure, and then there’s being obtuse.

Anyway, things are complicated upon the discovery of a young girl (Iris, played by Caoilinn Springall) who’s stowed away in the observatory for unknown reasons. She’s practically mute, for unknown reasons. And nobody’s coming back for her, for… okay, those reasons are perfectly clear, I’ll grant the film that much.

Thus Iris and Augustine have to keep each other alive as they make their way to a weather station several miles further north. There, they can access a stronger satellite uplink with a better chance at making contact with any passing spacecraft. And again, their reasons for contacting spacecraft in the first place is unclear.

Meanwhile, there’s the spacecraft Aether. Our primary character here is the comms specialist, Dr. Sullivan, played by Felicity Jones. I might add that the character is pregnant, to accommodate for Jones’ own pregnancy at time of filming. The Aether’s commanding officer (and Sullivan’s baby daddy) would be Commander Adewole, played by David Oyelowo. Kyle Chandler is on hand as the ship’s pilot, while Tiffany Boone and Demián Bichir play a couple of engineers.

What are they doing out in space? Where are they going and why is Augustine so desperate to contact them? Again, these are frustratingly unclear until the third act.

Yes, this is sadly one of those cases that doesn’t resemble a coherent film so much as it resembles a string of Oscar clips. These are wonderful performers and they’re all acting their hearts out, but it doesn’t connect because there’s nothing in terms of a coherent plot or theme. Each individual scene is easy enough to track, but there’s nothing to help us figure out how each scene fits into the grander picture. The smaller action scenes are solid, but the setups are so needlessly drawn out for such weak-sauce payoffs that the climax is pathetically limp.

It’s a two-hour movie that feels like two hours of padding. I honestly have no idea what the film was trying to say or what the characters accomplished.

A colleague of mine recently said of Cormac McCarthy’s works that at the beginning, the characters are screwed; and three hours later, they’re still screwed. That feels more or less like what we’ve got here. With the difference that when McCarthy and his ilk dabble in apocalyptic fiction, at least they have the guts to make a strong statement that’s pessimistic, nihilistic, misanthropic, etc. Of course you’re not going to get that out of George freaking Clooney, but I’d at least hope that he’d have the courage of his convictions.

The film cost a reported budget of $100 million, and every dime of it shows up on the screen. The effects, the production design, the money that went toward paying this wonderful cast… all of it was well spent. If this movie had gone up on IMAX like originally intended, I’m sure it would’ve been astounding to watch.

So much effort and talent went into this picture that I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m perfectly open to the possibility that I just didn’t get this one. But if I spend two hours watching a movie and I’m still not sure about what I’m supposed to take away from it, no way is that movie looking forward to a positive write-up.

I want to call The Midnight Sky Oscar-bait, but that might be an insult to the Oscar voters. It’s a beautiful and elegantly acted yet painfully hollow film, void of any apparent meaning or theme. The setups are nicely compelling, but it’s like the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a decent payoff, so they dragged it out as long as they could.

If you saw this movie and enjoyed it, please leave a comment to tell me what I missed. I’d love to see the film again with a more enlightened perspective. But for right now, I couldn’t possibly recommend this.

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