Nothing like a slow-burn tale of the end of the world to top off a pandemic year. Which isn’t to say this flick isn’t worth your time, it is. It just may not quite deliver the message or feeling you’re in search of at this moment. Because, while not devoid of hope, the die is cast at the beginning of the film leaving little doubt as to the ultimate ending. It even internally references On the Beach, just in case you missed the point. But it is also about survival and purpose. Like the more recent indies Aniara, These Final Hours or After We Leave, Midnight Sky is as much about trying to find someone and make sense of life before the end as it is about how to spend that time.
George Clooney (Money Monster) directed and stars in this contemplative feature. It even bears some resemblance to his previous starrer Solaris in style, though the pacing is better. There are also echoes of Gravity in the alternating pacing of calm and terror. And Mark L. Smith’s (Overlord) script adaptation is quiet but with enough tension to keep you locked in for the full two hours by bouncing between Clooney’s challenges and those upon the Aether, which is returning from Jupiter to a scorched Earth.
Clooney is helped along by a sharp cast in the counter-point group shipboard. Felicity Jones (On the Basis of Sex) and David Oyelowo (The Cloverfield Paradox) lead the crew, which is nicely stable despite the long time in space and the discoveries upon their return. This is what crews should be mentally, not quasi-hysterical or fractured individuals that tip over into instability at the first signs of challenge. Filling out the crew are some nice supporting performances by Demián Bichir (The Nun), Kyle Chandler (Godzilla: King of Monsters), and Tiffany Boone (Beautiful Creatures).
But perhaps the biggest surprise in the cast is the young newcomer Caoilinn Springall. Her performance is riveting, with barely a dozen words to support it. The result is as much a credit to her as it is to Clooney’s direction.
This isn’t a perfect movie. There are aspects missing. But it is also wonderfully subtle and manages to connect with its audience in unexpected ways. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel the need to explain everything and insult its audience. The production decisions about the world in the movie are also nicely inventive and subtle. Only 50 years ahead of us, the team found a look that exploits technical trends without commenting on them, like 3D printing.
Know what you’re walking into before you spin it up, but keep this movie on your list until you do. The performances and approach are worth your time, even if the message and result are a bit harsh for a year filled with a constant sense of disaster.