The Midnight Sky: A Modern-Day On The Beach

George Clooney (“Augustine” - Director - Producer) and Caoilinn Springall (“Iris”) in The Midnight Sky. Courtesy of Netflix.

The Midnight Sky, directed by and co-starring George Clooney, is a modern-day version of Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-nominated On the Beach.

Living in isolation is one of the major things to come out of 2020.  To no surprise, one of the biggest film’s of the year is about just that.  No, there isn’t a pandemic but the planet is suffering.  Is humanity heading towards the verge of extinction?  Quite possibly.  And yet, George Clooney does one of the things he does best.  The filmmaker is at the top of his game behind the camera.  In front, it’s another beautiful performance and what’s more, newcomer Caoilinn Springall holds her own against the star.  They might say to never work with children but the then-six-year-old actor comes off a complete professional.

The film never really gets into what is causing trouble on the planet.  Humanity may be dying but we don’t know much else.  The film instead chooses to focus on human connection between Arctic-stationed Augustine (George Clooney) and astronaut Sully (Felicity Jones).  Augustine, who needs regular blood transfusions, is duty-bound to warn the Aether crew about what’s happening on Earth.  It would be in the crew’s best interest to go elsewhere.  He isn’t doing so well himself and who really knows how much time he has left to live.

Sully is a part of an interplanetary team of explorers and they have no clue of what is going on.  Jones’s real-life pregancy changes up her character in a way that’s different from the source material.  The Aether crew is returning from their mission to explore K23 as a potential home for colonization.  Commanding the mission is Adewole (David Oyelowo) while Tom Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) pilots the ship.  Handling duties as astrodynamicist and navigation specialist is Sanchez (Demián Bichir).  Flight engineer Maya Lawrence (Tiffany Boone) rounds out the crew.

How does Earth look in 2049?  Not well, I’m afraid.  Even as chaos ensues on a dying planet, the film is minimal in terms of focus.  We never see what’s happening in Mission Control at NASA.  There are also no meetings at the Pentagon or in the War Room at the White House.  That’s just a long-winded way of saying that this film is nothing like Deep Impact.  During the Q&A following the virtual premiere earlier this month, Clooney said that the film was a modern-day On The Beach.  The 1959 film features Gregory Peck in a starring role.  Peck’s grandson, Ethan, portrays a younger version of Clooney’s Augustine.  Coincidentally, Clooney is oft-cited as the Gregory Peck of his generation.

In adapting Brooks-Dalton’s book, screenwriter Mark L. Smith also applies the same magic that he did with The Revenant.  The on-screen result is a thing of beauty, of course.  He never allows things to get too far off course nor does he make it bigger than it needs to be.  Instead, the focus remains front and center on these two areas of isolation–both on Earth and in space.  Despite a futuristic setting, the film looks like it could certainly take place right now as far as technology is concerned.  If you’ve already read Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, you’re already ahead of everyone else!  If this film has any kind of message, it is that we need to do better to save our planet.

When you set a film in the isolation of both space and the Arctic, it’s going to need a fun musical number.  Maybe it is Guardians of the Galaxy-inspired but I don’t know.  In any event, it is really nice to know that Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is still a fan-favorite in 2049!  I would not expect it any other way!  But outside of Neil Diamond, Clooney turns to Alexandre Desplat to write a concert, er, original score.  The music is so beautiful.

Interestingly enough, Clooney didn’t come to Netflix to direct the film.  Instead, he was sent a director-less script for the film and expressed an interest in directing.  It’s a win for everyone because The Midnight Sky is an all-around phenomenal film.  Behind the camera, his direction is among the upper tier of his career and he more than makes up for 2017’s dismal Suburbicon.  In front of the camera, the actor is certainly top-notch in his performance.  One of his best, actually!  Augustine may be 70 years old in the book but the actor is over a decade younger.  Combine weight loss with a bard and Clooney certainly transformed himself for the role.

The film team makes the best of the horrid wintry conditions in Iceland.  They just happened to shoot at the right time of year.  You don’t want to be outside for too long in that weather!

George Clooney brings novelist Lily Brooks-Dalton’s post-apocalyptic vision to life with cinematic beauty in The Midnight Sky.  Nobody could have expected this film to be so timely upon its December release date but here we are.

DIRECTOR:  George Clooney
CAST:  George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, with Demián Bichir and Kyle Chandler, and introducing Caoilinn Springall

Netflix launches The Midnight Sky on December 23, 2020. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.