african-american directors series/film fatales #104: little white lie (lacey schwartz and james adolphus, 2014)
fleabag and flowers

the midnight sky (george clooney, 2020)

The Midnight Sky will remind you of many other movies, which isn't a crime. I wrote about I Am Mother that director Grant Sputore "borrows from lots of movies, but puts it together in a unique enough way to make it interesting in its own right. You might find this or that plot turn to be reminiscent of another film, but that thought only occurs to you after the fact." The problem with The Midnight Sky isn't that it borrows from other movies, but that it does nothing particularly new in the process.

The movie is not totally without merit. It looks great ... the two main sets, a space ship and the Arctic, are impressive. You feel sorry for the cast and crew who worked on the Arctic scenes (there is some confusion about where they were actually filmed, with Finland and England the leading possible candidates). And the inside of the enormous space ship seems as vast as a continent, adding to the feel of isolation among the astronauts (who at least have each other ... George Clooney's character is stranded alone among the glaciers). The outside of the ship is equally impressive. I mistakenly took it for a space station at first, because of the various appendages.

But there is more to a movie than pretty pictures. Clooney is one of our most charismatic actors, and it's disappointing that his character is sick and morose, with a grey beard covering most of this face. Clooney plays it low-key, but there are too many dead spots in the movie for low-key to keep our attention. Since Clooney also directed, we have to assume this is what he wanted, but if so, he's being too modest about his screen presence. Meanwhile, there are some fine actors up in space: Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, new-to-me Tiffany Boone, and a personal favorite, Demián Bichir. Sadly, their characters are mostly one-dimensional, if not wasted, at least underutilized.

There's a plot twist you might figure out long before it is exposed. Clooney and/or screenwriter Mark L. Smith decided to split the narrative between the ship, the Arctic, and flashbacks, and while they mostly avoid confusion, the technique doesn't allow any of the places to emerge ... it seems like whenever something interesting happens, we switch back to another setting, ruining any buildup that might have kept The Midnight Sky moving.

One of the films I was reminded of was Gravity, because it took place in space, because it also had George Clooney. The comparison isn't a positive one for The Midnight Sky. When the movie ended, I mentioned to my wife that I had given Gravity a rating of 9 out of 10. She replied that she hoped I'd give the same rating to The Midnight Sky. I said yes, their ratings were the same, if you stood on your head when reading the rating for this movie. 6/10.


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