The Midnight Sky
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Caoilinn Springall, Sophie Rundle, Ethan Peck
One can be an amazing actor, but a dumb director. We have seen many. But we had hoped that George Clooney could be an exception – a great actor and equally adept at direction. . He was, in the beginning. His 2005 Good Night, and Good Luck was gripping with its black-and-white images dramatising the tussle between television newsman Edward R. Murrow and US Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was a lovely piece of work that took us into the world of news broadcast of that era. Clooney’s The Ides of March in 2011 was as gripping with a story about the selfish political culture that cared little for the masses. But when he made The Monuments Men three years later about how Nazis stole art and how an attempt was made later to retrieve it, Clooney fell off the cliff!
His latest outing, The Midnight Sky, now on Netflix, is as disastrous. It is doomsday for Earth in 2049 that has been ravished by poisonous radiation. Nearly all the inhabitants are dead. But scientist Augustine Lofthouse (played by Clooney) stays at his Arctic post. In any case, he has not many days left. He is suffering from a terminal illness. Staying on, he is hoping to make contact with any space mission that may be returning to Earth to try and warn it about the cataclysmic event. There is just one up there, Aether, which is coming back after finding a new planet, K-23, which looks like being habitable.
The rest of The Midnight Sky, adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 sci-fi novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” is all about how Lofthouse tries to contact Aether. We have on board a few like Sully (Felicity Jones) and Commander Tom Adewole (David Oyelowo). They are a couple and expecting their first child, and the other crew members keep thinking of a name for the baby girl.
In the meantime, Lofthouse finds that there is a stowaway in his post – Iris, just seven played with a touch of beautiful innocence by Caoilinn Springall. After initial irritation, the two bond. She is not mute, but refuses to talk. And Clooney is of little help, with his greyish beard looking like a glum Santa Claus, depressed and dejected. So very unlike his own real character and the kind of dashing films he made or acted in.
The Midnight Sky has some gorgeous visuals, but in times like these when the world is passing through a crisis, do we need a plot like this – dreary and infusing a sense of hopelessness in us?
The film may be science fiction, some kind of fantasy fairytale, but beyond this, I can merely wonder why the heck did a man like Clooney, who is so full of life, so spirited, make a movie that is disastrously depressing and may push the little joy we now have — with Christmas and New Year on us — out of our lives.
Maybe Clooney was trying to tell us, folks watch out, respect the planet (global warming, etc), otherwise it will kick you. But he could have done it with some fun, some hope, not this kind of dark despair.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)