Review: The Midnight Sky (2020)

Director: George Clooney
Screenwriter: Mark L. Smith
Starring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Caoilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler
Genres: Drama, Sci-fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some bloody images and brief strong language
Release Dates: 12/11/20 (Theatres); 12/23/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 58min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Production Design, Visual Effects, Original Score; Possible–Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound; Long-Shot–Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay

I was looking forward to seeing another performance from George Clooney, who has been busy the last few years having (and raising) his now three-year-old twins with his humanitarian lawyer wife, Amal. I was curious to see him direct himself, and to see him to do so with a sci-fi story; The Midnight Sky is based on a book, which I haven’t read, but I can imagine it’s better than the movie. I’d already seen the mediocre [at best] reviews of the film, from critics and regular moviegoers alike, before watch it myself. I usually have no problem coming up with my own opinions without being influenced by others, and, while Midnight Sky has its merits, it’s too flawed to be as fascinating and worthwhile as it wants to be (or thinks that it is). 

Let’s start with the positives: For one, the technical aspects are astoundingly good, from the visual effects to the production design to the cinematography. The film is sure to pick up at least a couple of Oscar nominations in the technical categories, despite its low Rotten Tomatoes score. Regardless of how you feel about the narrative or the performances, it’s hard to deny the visual impact of The Midnight Sky. It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to this high bar. 

At first, I found Clooney’s character’s part of the story — in which he spends all of his scenes either by himself or with child actress Caoilinn Springall — to be less interesting than the other one (set in space), but then I changed my mind. While I did enjoy some elements of the scenes with Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, and others, I found the moments with Clooney to be more interesting, although the accompanying flashbacks were unfocused and confusing. When the two storylines come together, it’s not all that surprising, but I still felt its impact through Clooney’s emotional performance (acting through a huge beard and makeup to age him). I almost would’ve preferred a film with just Clooney and the girl, as he’s still capable of holding our attention.

It’s unfortunate that acclaimed, talented actors like Jones, Oyelowo, Demian Bichir, and Kyle Chandler aren’t given that interesting of a storyline — there’s little (if any) character development, although they all make the most of their scenes and moments. There’s actually a startlingly good sequence involving a space walk, which I thought was one of the best scenes in the movie (well-acted and filmed). I’d like to see what Clooney can do with a better script, one that gets you more invested in the characters and in the story.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this movie is terrible — far from it. But, it’s disappointingly mediocre, and it tries to be as good as a Nolan film (like the masterpiece that is Interstellar) but never gets there. Regardless, it’s so well-shot and an impressive technical achievement that it’s still worth the watch. 

B

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