Final Frontiers

George Clooney goes behind the camera once more with The Midnight Sky. The seventh directorial effort of his career, it is certainly one of the more ambitious movies he’s made – with tandem storylines set in the Arctic and on a space station above the Earth. Adapted from the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, it has a resonance to contemporary living too. No, it’s not a pandemic story – thank god – but it does deal with ecological disaster, an issue all too real right now.

Leading the ensemble cast, Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist working alone in a research station in the Arctic at a time when an unspecified environmental catastrophe has hit the Earth. Left there in the observatory, due to illness, he’s been isolated for far too long – another theme we can probably all recognise – but then hope materializes in the shape of a little girl, Iris (Caoilinn Springall), who suddenly appears – seemingly left behind when her parents and the other researchers cleared out.

Meanwhile, up in space, the crew of the Aether have been on a mission to scope out distant planet K23, a formerly hidden moon of Jupiter, for its potential colonization. With the mission led by the assured Adewole (David Oyelowo), the team includes Kyle Chandler’s pilot Tom, Demián Bichir’s navigation specialist Sanchez and Tiffany Boone’s flight engineer Maya. Also on board is astronaut Sully (Felicity Jones), who draws the two storylines together when she makes radio contact with Augustine.

Both plotlines contain big-scale action moments. A sequence involving Maya fixing a faulty transmitter on the outside of the Aether is heart-stopping – though never quite as thrilling as anything in the Clooney-staring Gravity, which this film falls short next to. There is also a stunning moment on and under the ice when Augustine and Iris head to a weather station to transmit to the Aether.

Yet for the most part, the structure of the film works against the story – the two parts heaving against each other, never quite clicking. It’s a shame because the cast is uniformly excellent, with Clooney particularly good, carrying a haunted look about him. But after starring in Gravity and the remake of Solaris, two of the great space movies of the 21st Century, he gamely struggles here to match that earlier work.

The Midnight Sky is available on Netflix from 23 December. For more details, click here.

James Mottram