I wish Midnight Sky had been able to live up to its lofty ambitions. As star and director, George Clooney aims big, constructing a variety of impressive set pieces, including a terrific spacewalk sequence and scenes that unfold in the middle of a blinding arctic storm.
Despite reaching such visual heights, the movie falls short of achieving the semi-mournful, vaguely hopeful impact for which it's apparently striving. Midnight Sky is serious, steadfast but seldom grand.
Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist working at a deserted facility in the Arctic Circle. The year: 2049.
Augustine, who's suffering from terminal cancer, decided to remain in the Arctic after the rest of his co-workers departed. An unspecified global disaster has doomed the Earth's entire human population.
At the same time, a manned-mission to one of Jupiter's moons is working its way back toward Earth, having scouted the place as a possible alternative residence for humanity. Augustine has taken on the task of delivering a devastating message: The crew is returning to a doomed planet. He thinks they should head back to Jupiter.
The movie divides between action on the ship (the exterior has been beautifully designed) and Augustine's efforts to reach it — with a few flashbacks inserted to give a hint of Augustine's character and to allow him to be played by an actor (Ethan Peck) who looks nothing like a younger Clooney.
Augustine, we learn, has devoted his life to science at the expense of maintaining important family connections.
While roaming in his Arctic observatory, Augustine discovers a girl (Caoilinn Springall) about age seven. The evacuating team somehow left her behind.
Resigned to his lonely solitude, Augustine doesn't know how to care for the girl, a task made more difficult because she doesn't talk.
Slowly, he develops a relationship with her, which means he has to take her with him when he begins a cross-ice trek to reach a radio transmitter at a weather station located away from his home base.
The onboard crew of the spaceship Aether includes David Oyelowo as the captain and Felicity Jones as a crew member we soon learn is pregnant. Jones's Sully and Oyelowo’s character developed a relationship during the flight, which includes other less intriguing astronauts played by Tiffany Boone, Demian Bichir, and Kyle Chandler
Transitions between Earth and space don’t always feel fluid and I wondered whether the obvious physical difficulties of the shoot had blinded the filmmakers to the movie’s narrative insufficiencies and thinly developed characters.
Based on a novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton, Midnight Sky hobbles itself with weighty themes. The possible extinction of the human race might be as weighty as themes get — at least for those of us who belong to it. But Midnight Sky yields to mild attenuation, offering hope with an ending (which if you think about it) raises a ton of questions.
I won't say more. Midnight Sky generated no animosity on my part, just a sense that the movie resembled a space voyage that didn’t carry enough fuel to penetrate the existential questions it tries to probe.