George Clooney’s comeback in Netflix movie
While George Clooney is a prodigious actor with a talent for drama and acting the fool in absurd comedies, he hasn't had a consistent run at directing.
He smashed it out of the park with his first two directing jobs - Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, Good Luck - but then his past four films behind the camera have ranged from mediocre (The Ides of March) to unwatchable (Suburbicon).
So, it's great to see Clooney make a comeback with The Midnight Sky, a tight, thoughtful and effective sci-fi drama that makes excellent use of its talented cast.
There's not a single wasted performance and while you might wonder at first why some esteemed actors have been cast in seemingly supporting roles, it becomes very clear by the end why thespians of their calibre were chosen.
There are many significant moments, and even more small ones, that don't over-tip the emotional scale even when it would've been so tempting to do so. That's a beautiful marriage between director and actor (in Clooney's case, he's both), and the creative instincts involved to pull it off.
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Starring Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, David Oyelowo and Tiffany Boone, the film is adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton's Good Morning, Midnight.
Set 30 years into our future, a cataclysmic event on Earth has had devastating consequences on all life. Augustine (Clooney) is a scientist stationed at a remote Artic base. When everyone else is evacuated, Augustine stays behind - he's dying from an illness.
Faced with an extinction-level apocalypse (we're never told exactly what it is, other than it's caused by humans), Augustine tries to contact the only space program that is still active, the Aether, in the hopes to warn them to turn around. There's nothing remaining on this scorched Earth.
With the base's satellite not strong enough to reach Aether, Augustine, and a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) seemingly left behind in the evacuation, decide to leave the safety of the base and travel to a further one, one with the technology to contact the spaceship.
Commanded by Adewole (Oyelowo), the Aether crew consists of communications officer Sully (Jones), pilot Mitchell (Chandler), Sanchez (Bichir) and Maya (Boone). They were on a mission to discover the life-sustaining viability of a moon of Jupiter's, X-23.
On their way home during their two-year mission, the tight-knit crew don't know what they're returning to - or not returning to as the case is.
The two interweaving stories are both tales of challenges, faced with ferocious snowstorms or meteor showers.
But it's not in the hardships or even overcoming them that the heart of The Midnight Sky beats - and Clooney was in Gravity so it's not as if he needs to make a film about all the things that can go wrong in space.
It's a carefully balanced movie that gives as much time to human connections, loss, regrets and hope in the small moments as it does to what we reveal of ourselves when survival is at stake.
For a story whose plot is driven by jeopardy and suspense, it's in the character work that The Midnight Sky really hits home.
Visually, it looks great - and the palette is surprisingly warm and not desaturated considering the cold environments of the tundra and the spaceship.
Jim Bissell's production design is particularly impressive and well thought-out. The Aether looks like it could be a space vessel designed 30 years into our future and its membrane-like interior is reminiscent of something more organic like the structure of DNA - even in this story about the end, it evokes life.
The Midnight Sky is a confident drama that reminds us why we were all so excited when Clooney first turned his hand to directing. It has a spark that's been missing for too long.
The Midnight Sky is available to stream on Netflix from Wednesday, December 23 from 7pm AEDT, and is also playing in select cinemas
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Originally published as George Clooney's comeback in Netflix movie