The Movie Guru: “The Midnight Sky” heartbreaking but flawed
There’s a good movie buried somewhere in the middle of “The Midnight Sky.”
The movie, which premieres next Wednesday on Netflix, is in part a spare, heartbreaking look at the end of one lonely man’s life during the last days of Earth. Unfortunately, it’s at least a half-hour too long, and burdened with a secondary plot about a space crew that manages to be both too long and too short at the same time. There’s a quiet poetry in the movie, along with some gorgeous visuals, but too often there’s a lot of other stuff getting in the way.
After an apocalyptic event only referred to as “a mistake,” George Clooney plays a dying astrophysicist and the only one who refuses to be evacuated from a polar station. He thinks he’s alone until he runs into a mute little girl who has been left behind at the base, and the two struggle to take care of each other. They also struggle to reach a spaceship on its way back to the dying planet, trying to get them to turn around so they can find a new life on a planet they’d just finished exploring.
It’s not a cheerful story, but Clooney sells his half with so much raw feeling that it’s hard not to be affected. As director, he makes his character’s loneliness feel utterly palpable, and if you have any of your own regrets you might feel them rising up in the back of your mind as you watch. His relationship with the little girl has a similar raw quality, but that sells it far more effectively than more Hallmark-style sentiment would have. It works beautifully as a portrait of a man, and as a metaphor for the dying world he’s trapped on. It would work better if it were shorter, but even then the emotions linger.
The second half of the movie, with the people on the spaceship, isn’t nearly as effective. Part of this is an adaptation problem – in the book, the main character on the spaceship has had the same sort of isolating life as Clooney’s character on the ground. They’re mirrors of each other, both lonely and filled with regret, and if they would have kept that here I’m sure Clooney could have brought the same beautifully spare quality to that half of the story as well.
In the movie, though, the space crew are all lovely, warm, relatively well-adjusted people, which means they don’t work at all well as either vessels of pure emotion or walking metaphors like Clooney’s character. This leaves them needing things like well-rounded personalities and plot arcs, which the movie doesn’t provide them. Yes, we get gorgeous shots of both space and the arctic, but that’s not nearly enough to compensate.
Some critics have complained about the twist at the end, but for me it serves to strengthen the entire movie and give it far more meaning than it had originally. It’s not quite enough to make up for the movie’s mistakes, but it left me with a beautifully tragic memory that will linger.
Rated: PG-13 for some bloody images and brief strong language
Based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, adapted by Mark L. Smith
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Caoilinn Springall, and more
Grade: Two and a half stars (out of four)
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.
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