George Clooney stars in this space parable that starts out well, then goes adrift. Set in the stereotypically bleak near-future, the story focuses on a defeated scientist who chooses to stay behind in the Antarctic, knowing his days are numbered, while his colleagues get the hell out of there. But when he discovers that he has company—a silent 7-year-old girl—his priorities shift completely. He has to make contact with the spacecraft Aether so they can rescue her; that means leaving home base to find a substation with a more powerful radio beam.
At this point the movie splits in two, the more interesting part being Clooney and the girl’s perilous journey through ice, snow and wind to a safe harbor. This leads to the film’s most exciting moments. Meanwhile, the serene and ethnically diverse crew of the Aether is heading back to mother Earth, unaware that the planet is doomed. David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones, Demian Béchir, Tiffany Boone, and Kyle Chandler are so calm and compatible you just know something dreadful is heading their way. And it is. The crew’s individual stories never take root, however, so it’s hard to care too deeply about their fate.
Why Clooney would build a sequence so reminiscent of the devastating (and groundbreaking) meteor shower in Gravity—in which he starred—I cannot imagine. Yet that is the overarching problem with The Midnight Sky, adapted by Mark L. Smith from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel Good Morning, Midnight. I felt like I’d seen it before, such is the familiarity of its plot points and its most ambitious action scenes.
Clooney only works with A-list collaborators like production designer Jim Bissell and cinematographer Martin Ruhe. The result is an uncommonly good-looking picture. But even the prodigiously talented composer Alexandre Desplat is defeated by an unexceptional screenplay.