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The Midnight Sky
Review by Rich Cline |
dir George Clooney
scr Mark L Smith
prd George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Keith Redmon, Bard Dorros, Cliff Roberts
with George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Caoilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Tiffany Boone, Sophie Rundle, Ethan Peck, Tim Russ, Miriam Shor, Lilja Nott
release US/UK 11.Dec.20
20/US Netflix 1h56
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There's a meditative tone to this smart science-fiction drama, which is beautifully designed and shot as events play out in two settings, offering different angles on the characters and the bigger situation. This may undermine the film's sense of focus, but it offers points of connection in scenes that churn with emotion. So even if the story drifts badly in the final act, the film is both involving and moving.
After a global nuclear attack in 2049, the chronically ill Augustine (Clooney) decides not to leave his arctic observatory and return home. Then he discovers the mute young Iris (Springall) hiding in the station, and they seem to be the last surviving humans on the planet. Augustine is trying to contact astronauts returning a potentially inhabitable moon of Jupiter that he discovered. So he and Iris take a long trek further north to an outpost with a stronger antenna. Meanwhile on the spacecraft Aether, comms officer Sully (Jones) can't understand why Earth has gone silent.
The narrative gently flickers between Augustine's adventure with this little girl and the five crew-mates on the inbound ship, plus Augustine's regretful memories as a young astronomer (Peck) failing to balance work with his wife (Rundle). The Aether's fascinating, eye-catching tech has been designed with the crew's mental health in mind, which helps them deal with the stress of a long mission. They have plenty of camaraderie, demonstrated in a spacewalk sing-along. And they also have a distraction from their worries, as Sully is expecting a child with Commander Tom (Oyelowo).
With his Santa-style beard and cranky temperament, Clooney has superb presence as the wheezy Augustine, annoyed that he has to care for this bright-eyed child while taking care of his medical needs and trying to contact the Aether. His interaction with Springall's slyly observant Iris is witty and engaging. Meanwhile, Jones and Oyelowo superbly anchor the spaceship team alongside the terrific Chandler, Bichir and Boone. In the brief flashbacks, Peck's role is less textured, but offers some strong back-story connections for Augustine.
Oddly, the script only obliquely addresses the larger political implications of the premise. And some of the plot points feel contrived, as if they're merely required set-piece elements in a genre movie. But within this big blockbuster-style movie, Clooney takes a thoughtful storytelling approach that emphasises the delicate connections between the characters in jarringly unfamiliar situations. This makes several moments of suspense intensely gripping, both on land and in space.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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