The Midnight Sky (3 stars)

The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directs and stars in this entertaining and emotional space and polar adventure mash-up

For understandable reasons, bona fide filmic spectacle has been in very short supply recently, so George Clooney's latest as director-star is something to cheer. Based on Lily Brooks-Dalton's novel Good Morning, Midnight and adapted by Mark L Smith (The Revenant), The Midnight Sky unfolds in the not-too-distant future, following a global catastrophe, and switches between perilous polar exploits and similarly dangerous drama up in space.

Set three weeks after an undisclosed event, the radiation from which renders almost every last corner of Earth inhabitable, the film takes place in 2049 and begins at the Arctic Circle's Barbeau Observatory. It's now deserted, save one man: Clooney's cynical old geezer, Augustine Lofthouse. This dying scientist has identified a potentially habitable planet – one of Jupiter's exoplanets, known as K-23 – and spends his days looking back over his life with regret, since his sacrifices seem to have been in vain. Then he discovers he is not alone there.

Meanwhile, as humankind dies out, a team of astronauts are on their way back from a reconnaissance mission to K-23, unaware of what's happening on Earth. Led by David Oyelowo's Commander Adewole, they also include Felicity Jones's pregnant Sully, Demián Bichir's quiet man Sanchez, Kyle Chandler's family guy Mitchell, and Tiffany Boone's newbie Maya.

We live in anxious times and concerns about climate change have been pushed to the periphery, but it's a threat that's clearly been playing on Clooney's mind, with man's misadventures and fight for survival at the fore of the story. The tone is melancholy rather than savagely critical – does he think we've also left it too late? – with a sweeping sense of sorrow for humanity's failings, big and small, that's enhanced immeasurably by Alexandre Desplat's elegant and sometimes playful score.

It's a predictable, not terrifically subtle story – tragedy must follow jollity etc – but there's finesse in its execution and class in its cast, who lend poignancy to some pretty cheesy moments. Clooney brings crabby gravitas to his role, while the amiable astronauts make for a nice contrast to his world-weariness, and are pleasant to watch as they inhabit their own little oblivious bubble for a time. Slick, largely family friendly and likely to prompt a tear or two, The Midnight Sky is a welcome dose of Hollywood heroics and reflection.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 11 Dec, and on Netflix from Wed 23 Dec.

The Midnight Sky

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: George Clooney
  • Cast: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Caoilinn Springall
  • UK release: 23 December 2020